Trade union federations in Kenya and Lebanon sign Memoradum of Understanding (MOU) to support and empower African workers in Lebanon

Keywords : Human and trade union rights Kenya Migration

In November 2022, the Kenyan Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU-K) and the National Federation of Worker and Employee Trade Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL) committed to inter-union collaboration on both sides of the migration corridor to create a more solid protection framework.

Since the start of the economic crisis in Lebanon, which saw the average wages of families plummet, there has been a massive decline in the recruitment of migrant domestic workers to the country. However, based on Ministry of Labour’s administrative (work permit) data, one nationality which saw a major increase was the Kenyan community, with the number of new domestic workers tripling from 851 in 2019 to 3,233 new workers in 2021. Yet, testimony of newly-arrived Kenyan workers demonstrated that many were deceived by their recruitment agencies into coming to Lebanon, were placed with families that did not pay their wages, or in working conditions vastly different to that which they were promised in their contracts or by their recruitment agencies.

Given the critical role that trade unions in countries of origin and destination can play in ensuring the human rights of migrant workers, COTU-K representatives (Ms Rose Omamo, Mr Adams Barasa and Ms Teresa Wabuko) conducted a mission to Lebanon in July 2022, meeting with dozens of Kenyan domestic workers to hear their challenges and concerns. Close discussions with FENASOL reaffirmed their mutual support to keep working together to push their respective governments to ratify ILO conventions Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181) and the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) as well as better compliance with the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), which has been ratified by both Kenyan and Lebanon.

As part of the MOU signed between the federations, they will work together to promote strengthened regulatory frameworks on recruitment agencies, improve pre-departure training and fight for the rights of Kenyan domestic workers, and all migrant workers in Lebanon.

The situation of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon remains precarious, particularly as a result of the operation of the kafala system creates a heavily unbalanced employer-migrant worker relationship migrant workers’ freedom of movement and their right to terminate employment or change employers, among other negative practices, thus putting them at risk of forced labour. In September 2020, former Minister of Labour Lamia Yammine issued a revised Standard Unified Contract based on a reform action plan and a draft contract developed by the ILO and key national stakeholders, and which addressed many of the key elements of the kafala system that can lead to forced labour. The revised Standard Unified Contract was however indefinitely suspended in October 2020 by the Shura Council, Lebanon’s highest administrative court, based on a complaint from the Syndicate of Private Recruitment Agencies, and remains suspended.

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