Migrant workers in Lebanon rally for improved rights

Published April 29th, 2013 - 11:44 GMT
Migrant workers in Lebanon rallied for improved working conditions on Sunday
Migrant workers in Lebanon rallied for improved working conditions on Sunday

Hundreds of migrant workers marched in Beirut Sunday to demand rights and the eradication of the country’s slavery-like sponsorship system.

The march was organized to coincide with International Labor Day.

Dressed in their countries’ traditional clothing and joined by at least five Lebanese rights groups, demonstrators marched from the Corniche in Ain Mreisseh towards Sanayeh garden where they celebrated with a feast of traditional foods, dance, and a theatrical performance.

The march was held alongside a campaign titled, “There is something wrong with the sponsorship system.” Activists say they want to replace the so-called kafala system with one to ensure the rights of both the employer and the worker.

The kafala, or sponsorship, system in Lebanon legally ties the worker to a specific employer. The system forces the employee to remain with the same employer throughout the duration of the contract.

Organizers say the campaign seeks to pressure the government to give migrant workers the right to a day off during the week, resting hours during working days and the termination of the employment contract that legally binds the worker to the employer.

“It does not mean that you should disrespect us just because we clean up homes and wipe floors,” a worker from the West African state of Benin, who asked not to be name, told Al-Akhbar.

“But the problem here is not just that the employer disrespects us. It’s the widespread racism that is practiced even by the children. To do anything here, I have to get permission from the housewife. If I want to enter the bathroom, eat food, or go out, I have to ask for her permission. Then they complain that the worker ran away,” she added.

Organizers said one of the objectives of the event was to challenge the stereotypical image of the domestic worker in Lebanon.

Some onlookers, mostly families who regularly crowd the Corniche on Sundays, filmed or photographed the demonstration out of curiosity

But others shouted obscenities at the workers and mocked the traditional songs being sung by the crowds in a typical display of Lebanese racism.

A security officer at the scene proceeded to kick the harassers out of the area.

During the festival the attendees kept in mind the workers who could not participate alongside them, “not because they did not want to participate, but because there is a system that allows the employer to refuse the worker the right to leave the house and enjoy a vacation day,” a participant told Al-Akhbar.

A popular blog run by activists documents the abuse, killings and suicides of domestic workers in Lebanon.

© Al-Akhbar. All rights reserved

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