Article 7 of the Labor Law, which excludes domestic workers, must be abolished.
The Ministry of Labor issued a new Standard Unified Contract (SUC) for migrant domestic workers, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO). The minister claimed that the contract would serve to abolish the Kafala (sponsorship) system and would pave the way towards ending slavery. The contract does indeed include some improvements and gains. However, it also has many gaps that we must continue to pressure stakeholders to find solutions for.
Firstly, it must be noted that this progress was largely made possible by the advocacy efforts and campaigns led by legal and anti-racist organizations, as well as the domestic workers’ union. The newly introduced contract is not the first attempt at reform, as the two former Ministers of Labor Charbel Nahhas and Camille Abou Sleiman have both attempted several times to introduce new contracts under the demands and pressure of activists.
Reflections on some of the SUC’s content
First: The contract stated that domestic workers would be equal in terms of salary with other workers in Lebanon. The contract says that “the employers must pay the worker at the end of each month her monthly salary which is agreed upon, on the condition of not being less than the official minimum wage,” adding that a maximum of 30% of the salary would be deducted for the benefits provided by the employer such as housing, food etc. This means that the minimum wage allowed becomes 472,500 LBP. However, this improvement loses some of its value due to the economic crisis and the dollar shortage in Lebanon.
Second: The right to end the contract instead of “fleeing”
The contract gives both parties the right to end the contract, on the condition of giving a one-month notice. This means fleeing the employer's house is no longer the only option for the worker to change jobs in case of abuse and mistreatment. However, this article is still lacking compared to the Labor Law which stipulates that the worker who gives notice has the right to leave her work one hour before the end of the work day in order to search for another job. In addition, the contract does not protect the worker in case the employer decides to illegally end the contract without providing the reasons, which makes this a case of arbitrary dismissal of employment. Shouldn't the employer compensate the worker in case of arbitrary dismissal and to make up for the one-month advance notice according to Article 50 of the Labor Law?
Third: The contract states that the worker is to be provided with a separate room to sleep in so she can keep her privacy and independence, which is a positive aspect to the contract. However, the contract does not specify the mechanism of ensuring this would happen and ensuring the room matches the criteria stated in the contract. And while the Minister of Labor claims that the ministry’s inspectorate would handle that, she did not take into consideration the fact that there currently aren’t even enough inspectors to monitor companies and institutions. How, then, would they be able to monitor all the households that employ domestic workers??
Moreover, we know that the inspectors would not be able to enter houses of employers since this requires official authorization as well as the compulsory accompaniment of the mokhtar, among other requirements. And here we ask, wasn’t it better to allow the worker to choose between living in the employer’s house or to live on her own?
Fourth: The contract specifies 48 working hours per week, and 8 hours per day, which is a positive aspect to the contract. The contract also acknowledges working overtime by specifying that each additional working hour is to be paid equally to a regular working hour, and this contradicts the Labor Law that states that each additional hour of labor is to be paid at 1.5 times the regular working hour. But who will ensure abiding by the working hours during the day when the worker is living 24/7 in the employer’s house? The contract also decreased the weekly days off from 36 consecutive hours to only 24.
Lastly, these procedures, which admittedly do include positive aspects with core gaps to fill, do not abolish the Kafala system that legalizes and legitimizes slavery and causes many violations of the migrant domestic workers’ rights. The demand to abolish Kafala and slavery must remain at the core of demands to give rights to the workers. The road to this is clear: start by abolishing Article 7 of the Labor Law that excludes domestic workers, and by giving all due rights to migrant domestic workers like any other worker according to the Labor Law.
“My Work My Rights” Network
Illustration by Sandy Lyen