Labor Arbitration Council does Halima Arba Ubpah justice after 10 years of enduring slavery

Lebanon, 04/04/2022

Halima Arba Ubpah has been finally provided justice by the first chamber of the Labor Arbitration Council on March 21, 2022 after enduring 10 years of slavery. Five years after the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) submitted a summoning of Halima's employer, the Labor Arbitration Council issued a unanimous verdict which stated the following: “Obligating the defendant to pay the plaintiff Halima Ubpah 11 000$ or its equivalent in local currency based on the dollar rate on the day of payment. This amount represents the total salaries payable to Halima for her period of service including legal interest from 28/09/2018 until payment. The defendant must also retract her request for damages for abuse of the right to sue and settle all expenses."

This verdict represents a clear rebuttal of the prevailing jurisprudence of the Labor Arbitration Council, and lays a foundation for many foreign workers who suffer from the modern slavery system to achieve their rights just like Halima. 

Based on the above, and given the rarity of this type of verdicts, we recall the injustice and flagrant violations suffered by Halima while working as a domestic worker in Lebanon.

10 years of slavery 

Halima started working for her employer 10 and a half years ago when she arrived from the Philippines. She received her wage for the first three months. However, after this period, the employer refrained from paying her salary and went as far as to prevent her from contacting her parents and leaving the house up until she was able to make her voice heard in public via social media after returning to her home country with a small fraction of her dues and signing a release. 

Halima reported from her home in the Philippines via a video shared on the website "This is Lebanon" that during her time at the employer’s home, she was beaten, deprived of freedom, deprived of contact with her family and of her salary. Halima then contacted the Lebanese Center for Human Rights via "This is Lebanon" in order to obtain legal representation.

The Labor Arbitration Council’s decision: 

What’s remarkable in this case is that the Labor Arbitration Council characterized the relationship between the parties of the conflict as one of employment rather than that of a sponsorship, as opposed to the trend that usually exists in similar cases.

We must highlight the Council's in-depth evaluation of the details of the case and how   allegations of good treatment were dismissed due to lack of proof.

The Council also addressed the employer's claims regarding the validity of the release that Halima had been forced to sign prior to her travel, which constituted the employer's main statement, by considering it to be a non-judicial release.

The Council built on the date of signature of the release prior to travel and the amount sent to Halima for compensation to dismiss it as it could not be proved.

Employers in Lebanon and proven good treatment

Employers often invoke their good treatment of domestic workers when a claim is made against them. 

In Halima’s case, following her claim against the employer, the latter highlighted evidence of her good treatment of Halima by presenting a series of photographs showing how the family treated her and celebrated her birthday, which is reprehensible.

What good treatment would justify depriving a domestic worker from her salary, physical and psychological abuse and the restriction of her freedom?

This statement is merely an example of the prevailing sadistic tendencies of most employers, which target vulnerable foreign workers as victims.

Steps for achieving justice 

Despite the importance of achieving justice for Halima today and freeing her from slavery, hundreds of foreign domestic workers continue to suffer from lack of access to justice or treatment as employees under artcile 7 of the Lebanese Labor Code which excludes domestic workers. 

The present ruling is a rebuttal of the prevailing jurisprudence and a first but insufficient step towards achieving justice which we can reach through the persistence of the Labor Arbitration Council in passing similar judgements, and the amendment of article 7 of the Lebanese Labour Code by the parliament in order to abolish the kafala system and all forms of slavery in Lebanon.