x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UN expert urges Lebanon to protect maids

Human rights expert warns that without proper legal protection, household staff remain acutely vulnerable and dependent on their employers.

BEIRUT // A UN human rights expert has urged the Lebanese government to pass legislation to protect the country's 200,000 domestic workers, some of whom live in servitude.

During a visit to the country this week, Gulnara Shahinian, a UN special rapporteur monitoring contemporary forms of slavery, warned that without proper legal protection, household staff remain acutely vulnerable and dependent on their employers.

Lebanon's labour law - similar to those of other countries in the region - does not cover migrant domestic workers.

Authorities have taken steps to improve conditions, including the introduction of a unified contract for migrant domestic workers, but campaigners argue they have not gone far enough.

Legislation to provide greater protection for migrant workers has been in the draft phase for three years.

Any new law should include the guarantee of fair wages, Ms Shahinian said, as well as allowing domestic workers to keep their passports and ensure a day off.

It is "time that it be made a priority by the government", she said on Monday at the end of her first visit to the country.

While in Lebanon, Ms Shahinian met women forced to work without pay and some who had been physically and sexually abused.

"Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon ... are legally invisible, which makes them acutely vulnerable to domestic servitude," she said. "The migrant domestic worker is required to live in their employer's households, faces racial and gender discrimination and is deprived of the necessary legal protection to safeguard their rights."

zconstantine@thenational.ae