Hundreds of domestic workers protest against the sponsorship system

May 5th 2019

Hundreds of domestic workers protested on Sunday (May 5th) in Beirut to ask for the abolition of the sponsorship system, which is a system that relies on granting the residence permit to foreign workers by their employer operator. The workers raised slogans including "respect", "we are workers not slaves", "our lives are important, included us within the labour law."

In fact, Lebanon has more than 250 000 foreign employees and migrant domestic workers, most of whom come from Africa and Asia, mainly working for Lebanese citizens in their homes (cleaning, caring for children, accompanying the elderly), where women constitute the large proportion of them.

According to Amnesty International, the sponsorship system is by nature “a source of abuse, as well as it doubles the risk of exploitation, forced labour and the trafficking in human beings, without the ensuring of the victim's rights." Amnesty International April’s report stated that: "It is a disturbing situation, as it is characterized by the systematic violation of human rights (confiscation of passports, banning from leaving the employer's home, the non-payment of wages, insult, beatings, and malnutrition)”. It also stated that working for long hours without rest or leave a common way mistreatment subjected on half of the interviewed women.

In 2009, the Lebanese Ministry of Labour introduced a unified domestic workers’ contract, which limits the working hours by ten hours with a one-day leave per week, but it is often written in Arabic, thus, it cannot be read by foreign workers. At the end of 2018, the government confirmed its translation into several languages without mentioning which one of it, according to Amnesty International.

The human rights activists often accuse the Lebanese authorities of non-intervening with the abuses of the employers. During the recent years, Ethiopia and the Philippines prevented its citizens from working in Lebanon as domestic workers, but still some people accept to work there.

In 2018, the Human Rights Watch issued a report (in Arabic and in English) condemning the sponsoring system which places the migrant workers, outside the labour law protection system.

The last ten years have also witnessed the growth of a field movement in a campaign against the sponsorship system, especially by the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center, This is Lebanon Project and the first union of domestic workers in Lebanon established in 2015, with the support of the International Labour Organization.

The new minister of labour, Kamil Bouslimane, has condemned the sponsorship system, since he took office in February 2019 and promised to reform it.