Sun, Mar 04, 2018 - Page 15 News List

Beirut firm aims to give migrants, employers relief

By Heba Kanso

Thomson Reuters Foundation, BEIRUT

When Jane arrived in Lebanon from the Philippines as a domestic worker to cook, clean and care for children, she only met her new boss on the day she moved into her house — and was unhappy from the outset.

Meanwhile, Beirut resident Tina, expecting her first child, was looking to hire help at home, but was worried about employing someone she had never met — as is usually the case in Lebanon, where foreign workers need a sponsor to move to the country.

Enter Leena Ksaifi, who runs Equip, the first non-governmental organization in Lebanon to play matchmaker between employers and migrant domestic workers in a bid to tackle worker abuse and trafficking and ensure both bosses and workers are happy.

Ksaifi said she wanted to shake up traditional recruiting in Lebanon, where people go through agencies and rarely meet workers in person before hiring them under the kafala sponsorship system, which binds migrant workers to one employer.

Jane and Tina — whose names have been changed upon request for privacy — said they did not want to get into an employment relationship again that was decided on a photograph and resume, so they turned to Beirut-based Equip, which matched them.

“I wanted to see her, meet her, before I made a decision. At the end of the day, this person is living in my house... It is pretty intimate,” said Tina, who also wanted to avoid the large fees of hiring from overseas.

“I don’t want somebody to come here and be a slave,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her Beirut home.

Jane needed a new sponsor after deciding not to move abroad with her previous employer’s family, but wanted her next job to be a mutual agreement of salary, hours and time off.

“I wanted to meet the person face-to-face. Before, I could not ask for what I want,” Jane said, adding that her previous sponsorship felt like somebody owned her.

Equip was set up in late 2016, but started direct hiring about six months ago, as the kafala system — which applies across the Arab world — has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism from human rights groups for exploiting workers and denying them the ability to travel or change jobs.

This criticism has led to some nations reforming the system, with countries such as Bahrain and Jordan introducing flexible visas that stop workers being under one sponsor, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said.

Migrants — mostly women — account for more than 80 percent of domestic workers in the Arab states, the highest percentage globally.

A 2015 ILO report showed that globally there were 11.5 million migrant domestic workers, accounting for 7.7 percent of all migrant workers, with 73 percent of jobs held by women.

In Lebanon, there are more than 200,000 registered migrant domestic workers, government data for last year showed.

There are no official records of trafficked or abused domestic migrant workers in Lebanon.

Lebanon has yet to introduce any changes to the kafala system and Ksaifi said Equip was only matching domestic workers already in Lebanon with legal sponsors.

However, she said she hoped this would reduce the possibility of trafficking, because employers and workers have direct contact with each other, creating “open communication.”

“Matchmaking is important, because it is the first step in ensuring a positive relationship... There are aligned expectations, transparency of salary, care, etc,” Ksaifi said. “It ensures safety for the employer and worker, and there won’t be abuses.”

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