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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Labor

LEBANON: Employers hurt foreign maids with impunity, rights group says

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Justice Lebanese-style: A Lebanese employer in 1999 beat and burned two maids with a hot iron. 

The employer received a fine of $333. 

In a new report presented at a news conference in Beirut on Thursday, the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch offered some troubling statistics on the Lebanese justice system's track record for protecting the rights of migrant workers in Lebanon. 

The 54-page study, titled "Without Protection," concluded that the Lebanese judiciary generally failed to protect the rights of foreign maids who accuse their employers of mistreating them and that employers accused of abuse frequently go unpunished or only receive light sentences. 

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KUWAIT: New labor law grants women the right -- and flexibility -- to work late

The choice to clock late-night hours just like men is now a right for Kuwaiti women. 

In a revision to the labor law this week, the government of Kuwait allowed women to work night shifts at hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, press offices, banks and various other businesses.

AwadiThe amendment overrides a labor law that barred Kuwaiti women from working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Minister of Social Affairs and Labor, Dr. Mohammed Afasi, says Kuwaiti women can work until midnight in such professions as law, medicine, journalism, tourism and hospitality.

However, they still will be barred from jobs described as physically dangerous or taxing, such as those in the manufacturing, construction and petrochemical fields.

Afasi has also decreed other caveats to the labor law, including a ban on any private sector employee, man or woman, from working between 12 and 4 p.m. from June until August due to the perils of the summer sun and heat. 

These revisions come with a recent tide of other gender-conscious legal reforms that put Kuwaiti women at the forefront of gender rights in the Persian Gulf, according to a March 2010 report by Freedom House. 

Generally, they enjoy more comprehensive social and economic rights than their counterparts.

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IRAN: Official accuses Iranians of laziness

Iranians snow Oh, those lazy Iranians.

Say what?

A mid-ranking government official in Esfahan has riled the national psyche by proclaiming: “Iranians are lazier than the average people in the world.”

One wouldn’t think so given the steady buzz of news, including street protests, political battles over subsidy cuts and the perpetual brinkmanship and diplomacy with the international community over the country’s nuclear program. But Mohammad Reza Javadi Yegane believes his countrymen have become sloths since the days of the Islamic Revolution.

The semi-official news agency Tabnak cited Yegane, a member of the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, in reminding its readers that three years ago Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned that “social laziness is the inner foe of Iranians.”

Some businessmen agree. Mostafa Bromandi, owner of a printing house, said: “My workers are lazy. Out of the eight hours I pay them, they only work two hours.... The more educated, the lazier. My accountant has a BA degree. He is the laziest white-collar worker.” 

A barber found such accusations a bit curious "On the one hand," he said, "the government complains that the holidays in Iran are the longest in the world. On the other hand .. when unrest was fomenting in Tehran in the postelection, the government announced more holidays." 

Maryam, a bookkeeper who wouldn’t give her last name, said: “Yes, Yegane is right. If we were not suffering from social laziness we should have toppled this incompetent and inefficient government.”

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photo: Iranians in the snow on Mount Tochal overlooking Tehran. Credit: Associated Press  

KUWAIT: New job listings website serves Arab women

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It's going to take more than pink type to close the gender gap in the Arab work world, but creating a welcoming and user-friendly job site for women is a start.

The Kuwait-based Wasm Media launched the site after its founder, Abdulmohsen Alajmi, realized not enough women were applying to work at his firm, although he knew many were qualified.

The available data corroborate Alajmi's experience. The 2009 Global Gender Gap Report, released in October by the World Economic Forum, found that in some Arab countries, including Kuwait, more women pursue higher education than men yet still make up a minority of the workforce.

"Fora9," pronounced "foras" which means "opportunities" in Arabic, seeks to rectify the imbalance by making job-hunting easier for women. Fora9 categorizes its listings by field, including medicine, marketing and information technology, to name just a few, as well as by commitment: full time, part time, long-distance and volunteer.

But apart from its sleek interface and pastel palette, it is not immediately clear why women seeking to break the glass ceiling should use Fora9 instead of existing job sites like bayt.com, currently the top online classified service in the region.

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BAHRAIN: Islamists seeking to curb prostitution fail in bid to ban women from 4 countries

Photo_1256663040286-1-0A proposal by a conservative Bahraini political bloc to ban women from four countries from entering the country did not make the grade among Bahraini lawmakers but raised quite a few eyebrows when it was offered up.

The conservative Al Asala bloc proposed that Bahraini authorities stop issuing visas to Russian, Thai, Ethiopian, and Chinese women as part ongoing efforts to combat prostitution.

The small island kingdom began stepping up measures to curb prostitution last summer, rounding up and deporting scores of alleged prostitutes and banning one and two-star hotels from selling alcohol to prevent cheap flophouses from turning into brothels. 

Intensified efforts to put an end to prostitution in the relatively freewheeling island came shortly after a popular men's website listed Manama, Bahrain's capital, as one of the world's "top 10 cities to pursue vice and debauchery."

But despite the concern among some Bahraini parliamentarians including Adel Maawdah, who thinks prostitution is so widespread there that his country is turning into the "brothel of the Gulf," the controversial proposal was short-lived in the parliament.

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LEBANON: 'Clear pattern' of migrant-worker deaths alarms rights advocates

On Oct. 21, 26-year-old Zeditu Kebede Matente of Ethiopia was found dead, hanging from an olive tree in the southern Lebanese town of Haris.

Just two days later, her compatriot, 30-year-old Saneet Mariam, died after falling from the balcony of her employer’s house in Mastita, just north of Beirut.

It's been a deadly month for women working as domestic laborers in Lebanon. At least six have died under mysterious circumstances, constituting a "clear pattern that cannot be ignored," Human Rights Watch researcher Nadim Houry told the Daily Star recently.

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JORDAN: Indonesia to sue doctor for dumping sick maid outside a hospital

Indonesia-maid The Indonesian Embassy in Amman intends to sue a Jordanian doctor for allegedly abusing an Indonesian domestic worker at his home and then abandoning her outside a medical facility after she became ill with tuberculosis, the Jordan Times reported today.

Indonesian deputy envoy to Jordan Ari Wardhana told the paper that the victim, identified only as "Aminah," had not only been abused by her employer and his family, but also had been forced to work without pay since she arrived in Jordan in 2008.

“We are currently collecting information from the girl to file a lawsuit against the doctor," Wardhana said.

“We will take this matter to the Jordanian government," he added. "She is a human being and should have been treated in a better way."

Ahmad Armouti, president of the Jordan Medical Assn., said his organization will investigate the doctor, who has so far gone unnamed.

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EGYPT: Textile workers go on hunger strike

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Unlike other Muslims in Egypt, six workers at  Indorama Textiles Co. don't look forward to sunset during Ramadan so they can eat after more than 12 hours of fasting. 

They are on a weeklong hunger strike.

The workers are carrying out the strike in a university hospital in Menoufeya after, they said, they were "abusively sacked and suspended" by the company's board of administrators.

They announced that they won't end their hunger strike until they either die or get back their jobs.

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LEBANON: Clubs ban African, Asian maids from swimming pools

 Seventeen out of Lebanon's 30 or so beach clubs do not allow migrant guest workers from Asia and Africa in their swimming pools, and some even deny them entrance outright, Human Rights Watch researcher Nadim Houry told Maysam Ali of the news website Now Lebanon last week.

Houry's comments come at the height of Lebanon's oppressive summer heat, when locals and tourists alike flood the beaches and pools seeking relief from the blazing sun and humidity.

Lebanon is regularly criticized for its human rights record regarding  migrant guest workers, mostly women from the Philippines and East Africa who work as maids and nannies for Lebanese families.

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IRAN: Ahmadinejad cuts wages raised before election

Iran-retirees Tens of thousands of Iranians were in for a shock in recent days when they got their paychecks and found their wages had dropped back to the same level as before election season.

After boosting the salaries of government employees and retirees for two months in the run-up to the June 12 elections -- in what critics decried as a naked attempt at vote-buying --  the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has slashed wages again.

According to a report Sunday by the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency, wages for retired army personnel have been cut by $100 to $250 per month. Hamshahri, a daily newspaper run by Tehran's mayor, put the decreases at $60 to $200 per month.

That's no small change in a country where civil servants and retirees typically live off a  few hundred dollars a month and inflation continues to eat into people's standard of living.

The salary cuts also have hit other public service employees, who were lavished with praise and bonuses in the weeks before the election. 

One schoolteacher, speaking on condition of anonymity, said her salary was increased from $370 to $540 two months before the election. When she looked at her paycheck at the end of the Persian month of Tir several days ago, she discovered it was back down to the same as before the election.

Many considered the salary increases long-overdue adjustments for inflation.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Retirees in a park in Iran. Credit: Hooshang Hadi / Iranian Labor News Agency

DUBAI: Police announce arrests of thousands of pimps, prostitutes

Dubai-skyline

In a city-state that imports most of its human capital, from upper management to unskilled labor, it's no surprise that sex trafficking and forced prostitution have also flourished alongside (and sometimes inside) Dubai's luxury hotels and glittering skyscrapers.

In December 2007, however, the Dubai police responded by raiding two dozen brothels and detaining hundreds of suspects in the biggest prostitution sting to date.

At the time, Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim told the Associated Press that the Dubai government had "declared war on human trafficking."

Since then, police in Dubai have arrested 2,713 sex workers and 107 female pimps as part of an ongoing campaign against vice, according to a recent report in the Saudi-based Arab News.

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EGYPT: A protest with low turnout

Protest

Despite a call for a national strike, Cairo's streets Monday were as busy as they usually are on weekdays, with workers heading to their jobs and offices and students heading to their universities. Yet dozens of riot police cars were stationed in downtown Cairo, reflecting a high sense of alert on the part of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Barely one hundred demonstrators gathered in downtown Cairo, heeding opposition calls to make April 6 “a day of anger” nationwide in protest of poor economic conditions and political stagnation.

“I am not disappointed or desperate; the pursuit of the struggle will bear fruit one day. Change does not happen overnight, it requires accumulative work,” George Ishak, a leader of the Kefaya protest movement  told the Los Angeles Times on the sidelines of the demonstration.

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