Lebanon's invisible workers
Lebanon's invisible workersForeign workers who arrive in Beirut for domestic work find a culture of silence around alleged abuse.
In Lebanon, a new maid-training academy claims to provide a much-needed education for domestic workers who have little experience with etiquette and cannot speak the language of their employers. The House Keeper Training Academy caters to foreigners who come from as far off as South Asian and Africa to work as maids and housekeepers. A four-day training session costs $180.
Critics say the school misattributes maid-employer problems in Lebanon and across the Middle East. In reality, they contend, maids are too often the victims of unreported abuse that has nothing to do with language barriers or work experience. The mistreatment is more commonly the result of employers and agencies taking advantage of undocumented workers.
Often Lebanon’s domestic workers arrive illegally and unaware of their rights, leaving them fully dependant on their employers. While many of the country’s 200,000 foreign domestic workers may be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation due to the nature of their work, those who are working without documentation are especially susceptible to physical and sexual abuse, underpayment, overwork, and other forms of mistreatment.
The Lebanese Ministry of Labor has a hotline to support foreign domestic workers. However, many of the most vulnerable women are limited by language barriers and access to information while living under tight control, further preventing their ability to access such a resource.
Incidents of abuse have become so widespread that some countries (Eritrea, the Philippines, and others) have officially barred their citizens from taking domestic work in Middle East and Gulf states. According to the Human Rights Watch, one maid died in Lebanon every week from 2007 to 2008, either by suicide or because her attempt at escaping her employer ended in death, often falling from one of the many high-rise apartment buildings in Lebanon’s urban areas.
In response, the Migrant Worker’s Task Force has set up a Facebook page to parody the misguided maid-training academy: the Madame/Mister Training Academy.
These are some of the other social media elements featured in this episode of The Stream.