A new labor agreement between Ethiopia and Lebanon fails to adequately protect domestic workers who are subject to the notorious kafala system in Lebanon.
Domestic workers excluded from labor law protections
For the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian workers in Lebanon, the new agreement does not go far enough to protect them from exploitative work conditions and doesn’t include minimum salary requirements.
Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are excluded from the country’s Labour Law and are instead governed by the kafala system, a sponsorship system whereby the workers’ right to work and live in the country is tied to their employer. Domestic workers would continue to be excluded from Lebanon’s Labour Law under the new bilateral agreement.
The exploitation of domestic workers is inevitably facilitated under these conditions. Employers are secure in the knowledge that their employee cannot leave their employment without risking detention and deportation, and so an extreme power imbalance drives exploitative labor conditions while leaving migrant domestic workers with little recourse to grievance and justice mechanisms.
Zecharias Zelalem writes in the Middle East Eye:
Since the 1980s, women from developing countries in Asia and Africa have flocked to the Middle East for low-paying jobs as housekeepers, with Lebanon among the choice destinations.
But scores of Ethiopian workers have died in Lebanon over the past two decades as a result of suicides, accidental deaths and murders that are rarely investigated by Lebanese or Ethiopian authorities.
Passport confiscation still a problem
The current draft of the bilateral agreement would also leave the door open to passport confiscation as a result of wording in the document that proposes efforts to address “unlawful withholding of [workers’] passports”. According to Dr. Mehari Taddele Maru, a professor at the School of Transnational Governance and Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute:
“Passport seizure should be considered unlawful by default. Adding an adjective opens the door for the law to decide what form of seizure by employers would be deemed legal or illegal, and there can be no guarantees for workers who are already excluded from legal protections.”
Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian women were being recruited by their own government for domestic work in Saudi Arabia, despite its longstanding record of abuse and torture.
Help end domestic slavery by adding your name to the petition calling on governments to ratify the international convention on domestic work C189. Neither Ethiopia nor Lebanon have ratified this convention.