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Research Paper Series
AUGUST 2020 Research Paper Series Volume 1 No. 2

Remittances, COVID-19 and Wage Theft:
The Impact on Migrant Workers
Author: Cristina Patriarca
Introduction
Halima, a woman and mother of three, was once a migrant domestic worker. Hoping to make a living and be able to
support her family, through a local recruitment agency, Halima moved from the Philippines to Lebanon, where she
worked for one family as a housemaid. She spent 10 years there, during which time she experienced continuous
violence and abuses, was denied contact with her own family and had almost all payments withheld. In 10 years,
Halima “was only able to wire money home once at the beginning and once at the end. So essentially, […] she
worked as a slave.”1 With her hopes shattered and empty-handed, thanks to the protests of a freeing campaign,
Halima at least managed to return home alive. However, up until today, she has been unable to claim justice and
take her former employer to court. Her young children, in the meantime, have been deprived of their mother for 10
years.
Unfortunately, this is only one of the many stories of exploitation and abuses suffered by migrant workers across the
world, and left unaddressed by justice systems.2 In an insightful article published on Human-Rights.org, in describing
the plight of migrant domestic workers, Saraswhati tells us that “[i]n the best of times they are overworked –
upwards of 65 hours a week; underpaid – between USD150 and 400 a month, sometimes unpaid; often without a
weekly off; and no freedom to leave their workplace and spend their free time as they please.” 3 In worst-case
scenarios, they are violated, prevented from having contact with the external world, or killed. Abuses, however, are
not exclusive to the domestic sector.4
Health expert Marc Schenker suggests that being exposed to risky jobs, which often lead to injury or death, is
common among migrant workers.5 The 2018 Annual Review of Public Health also affirms that migrant workers
“are often engaged in what are known as 3-D jobs—dirty, dangerous, and demanding (sometimes degrading or
demeaning) [….] They work for less pay, for longer hours, and in worse conditions than do nonmigrants and are
often subject to human rights violations, abuse, human trafficking, and violence. Most importantly, these precarious
workers may take greater risks on the job, do work without adequate training or protective equipment, and do not
1

Wallis, E., Slavery and suicide: Plight of migrant maids in Lebanon made more stark by pandemic (Info Migrants 06 June 2020)
https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/25140/slavery-and-suicide-plight-of-migrant-maids-in-lebanon-made-more-stark-bypandemic
2 See for example, Azhari, T., and Mbah F., Lebanon employer investigated over Nigeria domestic worker abuse, (Aljazeera 30 April
2020)
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/lebanon-employer-investigated-nigeria-domestic-worker-abuse200430105813526.html
3Saraswathi, V., Domestic Workers: Bearing the Brunt of Invisibility, Isolation and Inequality (Info Migrants 29 April 2020)
https://www.migrant-rights.org/2020/04/domestic-workers-bearing-the-brunt-of-invisibility-isolation-and-inequality/
4 Lawrence, F., Spain's salad growers are modern-day slaves, say charities (The Guardian 07 February 2011)
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2011/feb/07/spain-salad-growers-slaves-charities
5 Underwood, E., Unhealthy work: Why migrants are especially vulnerable to injury and death on the job, (Knowable Magazine 18
July 2018) https://www.knowablemagazine.org/article/society/2018/unhealthy-work-why-migrants-are-especially-vulnerableinjury-and-death-job

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