Lebanon airline employee disciplined over remark

October 9, 2012 - 1:34 PM
Mideast Lebanon Discrimination

FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2010 file photo, a Middle East Airlines jet lands at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon. Lebanon's national airline says it has disciplined an employee after a passenger complained on Facebook and Twitter that ground staff singled out passengers from the Philippines at the Beirut airport and told them over the loudspeaker: "Filipino people, stop talking." (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

BEIRUT (AP) — An official said Tuesday that an employee of Lebanon's national airline MEA was fired after a passenger complained in a social media campaign that the worker humiliated travelers from the Philippines at the Beirut airport and told them over the loudspeaker, "Filipino people, stop talking."

The incident is part of what human rights groups say is widespread discrimination and abuse of foreign workers in Lebanon. More than 200,000 women from Asia and Africa work as maids in the country of 4 million people, said Nadim Houry, a researcher in Lebanon for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.

In recent years, the foreign maids' work conditions — long hours, little pay and alleged physical abuse — have come under increasing scrutiny in Lebanon. Some private beaches in the country have barred foreign workers, and not all have complied with a Tourism Ministry directive earlier this year to halt such practices, Houry said.

He lauded the social media campaign protesting Saturday's airport incident, calling it a sign of change.

"The latest incident shows that more and more people in Lebanon are angry and tired of this racism that exists," Houry said, while urging the government to do more to protect foreign workers.

"What we have been missing are concrete new policies, a new enforcement mechanism to put an end to it," he said. "It is no longer the time for nice words."

Abed Shaheen, a Lebanese businessman based in Dubai, witnessed Saturday's incident while waiting to board a flight at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport. The flight was delayed and passengers, including about two dozen domestic workers from Asia, were talking among themselves, he said.

At one point, a woman staffing the counter at the gate took a loudspeaker and announced, "Filipino people, stop talking," Shaheen said. He said the woman's male colleague corrected her, telling her the travelers were from Nepal, not the Philippines. The woman proceeded to admonish the group twice more, giggling as she did so.

Shaheen said he was outraged and walked up to the counter to complain. He said he was brushed off by the two members of the ground staff and was told they would do as they please.

He later launched a protest campaign on Facebook and Twitter and sent an email to MEAG, an MEA subsidiary that handles ground services. Shaheen said he received a call from a senior official in MEAG and was promised the company would investigate.

On Tuesday, MEA said on its Facebook page that it investigated Saturday's incident, which it portrayed it as an isolated case of "misbehavior" by an MEAG passenger service agent.

The airline said severe disciplinary action has been taken against an employee, but did not elaborate.

An MEA official said the woman was fired, and that disciplinary action was being considered against her male colleague. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case with the media.