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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Jordan

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Jordan, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd88943c.html [accessed 25 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 6,187,000
Capital: Amman

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Threats: 24
Injuries: 31
Arrests: 27

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

Union activity is tightly controlled, and union activists face discrimination and, in the case of migrants, deportation. A single trade union system is in place, and it is prohibitively difficult to call a lawful strike. Despite this however work stoppages and protests took place. The provisional amended labour law that was endorsed by the former prime minister's was approved and adopted in 2011.

Background

The Jordanian King, Abdullah II, dismissed the cabinet and Prime Minister twice during the year in an attempt to stem vocal protests and calls for political reform. Several major strikes were held including protests by doctors and by teachers demanding the right to form an independent association. There remains significant numbers of workers on daily wages with massive job insecurity. Child labour is reportedly rife in the huge Marka refugee camp. Both inflation and unemployment are rising with some estimates of unemployment as high as 30%.

Protest movement: Protests in Jordan began early in 2011 over corruption, economic reforms, the lack of government transparency and King Abdullah II's absolute hold on power, and persisted sporadically throughout the year. However they lacked the intensity of some neighbouring countries.

On the weekend of 14-16 January, some 3,000 Jordanians protested against corruption, rising prices and poverty. They were led by trade unions and opposition parties. In an effort to prevent more unrest, the government announced a new package of reforms aimed at cutting prices and increasing wages in some sectors. This move did not however stop more protests from taking place.

Shortly after a demonstration by 5,000 people in the capital Amman, the King announced the dismissal of the government and appointed Marouf al-Bakhit, a former army general, to form a new Cabinet. On 25 February, some 8,000 people demonstrated and on 24 March a protest camp was established. The following day pro-government supporters overran the camp injuring 100 and killing one.

Regular protests took place afterwards. Most were relatively peaceful, but in July riot police broke up a peaceful march in Amman beating protesters and journalists, despite an earlier agreement with police which produced orange vests for journalist to wear during the march. According to witnesses, police surrounded and charged the demonstrators. Several protestors were badly injured, including reporters from Al Jazeera, The New York Times, local dailies and others, who were badly beaten up. The police later apologised.

Throughout the year, media workers remained under fire. In February, eight journalists covering the protests in Amman were attacked and injured by unknown assailants. Several foreign journalists complained of attempts to threaten them by confiscating their cameras. In May, Ala'a Fazza', a journalist, was arrested and held for 14 days pending investigation. The King ordered his release after protests from other journalists. Journalists and staff members of media outlets and electronic news websites staged a one-hour work stoppage on 24 May to condemn a recent spate of attacks on their colleagues and call for curbs to this violence.

In October, the King again dismissed the government.

Trade union rights in law

The laws regulating trade union rights in Jordan are very restrictive, but the amendment of the Labour Code in July 2010 did bring some improvement. Workers in private companies and in some public corporations have the right to form trade unions, but all unions must belong to the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU). Furthermore, fifty founding members of Jordanian nationality are required to establish a union, and approval by the Ministry of Labour is required for it to become officially registered. New trade unions must also be directly linked to 17 professions and sectors in which unions already exist. Civil servants, as well as gardeners and cooks, are not covered by the Labour Code, and are denied the right to organise. While according to the new law foreign workers are allowed to join a trade union, they are still not authorised to participate in the establishment of a trade union as founding members or even as leaders.

The right to collective bargaining is not recognised, however there is a chapter on collective agreements in the Labour Code. The right to strike is heavily curtailed, as government permission must be obtained in order to call a lawful strike. The Ministry of Labour can also impose cumbersome mediation or refer the case to a labour court. Alternatively, the dispute can be transferred to the Council of Ministers and then to Parliament. Strikes are prohibited during the entire dispute resolution procedure.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Strike action despite restrictions: Data from October stated that Jordan had witnessed an unprecedented 607 labour-related protests and work stoppages over the first nine months of 2011. Strikes took place throughout the year despite restrictions on workers' right to strike. Electricity workers held several actions over wages, public sector workers including bus drivers threatened strike action, journalists protested over lay offs and wages as did workers from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and potash workers. HSBC staff also went on strike over unannounced layoffs while public sector doctors demanded higher salaries and held various strike actions during the year.

Discontent with the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions:

In March, hundreds of unionists demanded the abolition of the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU), the sole legally approved federation in Jordan. They also called upon the GFJTU President Mazen Maaytah and the presidents of all unions under its umbrella to step down, the accounts to be frozen and for the salaries of union heads in the federation to be terminated.

In August, plans to form an independent federation of Jordanian trade unions were announced after accusations that the current General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU) was failing to defend workers' rights. Jordanian labour law does not allow the formation of a trade union without prior permission from the government; however the committee to establish the new federation stated that in accordance with ILO conventions, founding members have only to notify local authorities of the formation of the union.

Teachers' union finally established:

Teachers followed up their protests of March and April 2010 with a week-long strike in late March 2011 demanding that they be able to form a teachers' professional association with mandatory membership. They demanded financial and administrative autonomy and the right of teachers who are members of the association to demand improved wages. Jordan's Higher Council for the Interpretation of the Constitution ruled in favour of establishing the syndicate on 28 March, revoking a 1994 decision that considered such an organisation unconstitutional. The draft law to establish the teachers' professional association was passed by the Lower House on 24 July and allows membership in the union for all teachers working for the education ministry, along with administrators, technicians and engineers.

In February, professors at Jordanian universities began to discuss establishing their own professional association – 'The Institutional Committee for a University Professors' Professional Association'.

Day workers denied permanent employment and threatened:

High numbers of workers in Jordan are employed on daily contracts and lack basic benefits and access to social security and health care. Throughout 2011, these workers held protests over their situation. According to Jordanian law, if a worker works for more than three months and is paid on a daily basis, he will be covered by the labour law and gain access to benefits and services under this law. In practice, however, this is usually not the case but the government has made extensive promises that such labourers would be made permanent employees. In May, some 200 labourers at the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) and the Ministry of Agriculture protested that they had not been granted permanent employment as promised. The workers had previously staged major protests in February 2010 calling for improved conditions, permanent employment, and extending employment benefits such as health insurance to the 1,200 day labourers working for the authority.

In October and December, several hundred agricultural day labourers in Karak Governorate reported receiving threats and harassment from officials during ongoing disputes over salaries and employment status after promises of permanent contracts did not materialise. The workers accuse the government of stalling in meeting their demands. Under labour law agricultural workers are denied the right to freedom of association.

Migrant domestic workers abused:

Official figures show that more than 322,000 registered migrants are working in Jordan, but unofficial estimates put unregistered migrant workers at 100,000-150,000. Many workers, especially domestic workers, are employed without the proper permits, have their passports taken and are forced to work extremely long hours. Bangladeshi workers have been banned from entering Jordan since 2007, after Bangladeshi workers went on strike over labour rights. However, in July 2010, at the urging of garment factories, the Jordanian government lifted the ban on Bangladeshi women.

In August 2008, amendments to the Labour Law were made giving migrant domestic workers equal footing with Jordanian workers in terms of medical care, timely payment of wages and subscription to the Social Security Corporation. Under the rules, all transfers of domestic helpers from a sponsor to another employer must be ratified at a labour directorate in order to ensure a more transparent process. Previously such transfers would occur at recruitment offices.

Despite the legal changes, for most foreign workers the situation has not improved and several cases of abuse came to light throughout 2011. The law still allows employers to restrict a domestic worker's movements and allows employers to retain passports and other papers. In addition, the law still does not allow domestic workers to change employers freely, even after the contract period has ended and imposes fines on those who are in Jordan without a valid residency permit, which only an employer can apply for, but often does not. Police actions can often put the domestic worker further at risk and police often detain domestic workers whose employers registered them as "escaped," even when the worker had a valid residency permit.

A Human Rights Watch report published in September 2011 called on Jordan to ratify the new ILO treaty on domestic workers' rights which the government recently voted in favour of at the ILO in June 2011.

Abuse of Egyptian workers in Jordan: According to statistics by the Ministry of Labour, 71% of the approximately 458,000 foreign workers employed in Jordan are Egyptian. There are repeated reports of ill treatment of Egyptian workers despite several efforts to protect their rights. Agricultural workers are reported to be brought to Jordan under circumstances resembling human trafficking with agricultural workers working long hours and denied weekly holidays.

Political tensions impairing independent trade union activities: Political tensions in the country make it difficult to carry out trade union activity independently of political manipulation. While the right is restricted, many workers went on strike during 2011.

Violations

Jordanian ship bans workers from talking to authorities: In January, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) reported its dispute with the Jordanian owners of the flag of convenience live sheep carrier Bader 3 currently in dock in Fremantle, Australia. While the ship had a current agreement with the ITF for wages and conditions for the 80 mainly Pakistani crew, the ITF had received documentation that the agreement had been breached for an entire year and the crew had been forced to sign papers which surrender their right to shore leave. "Harsh punishment" was threatened for any crew who talked to Australian authorities. The crew had been paid less than half of their entitlements.

Threats to dismiss strikers at Al Rai daily newspaper: Employees of Al Rai daily newspaper protested in front of the newspaper headquarters on 26 February demanding improvements to their financial conditions and employee rights. Several Al Rai journalists said that managers had threatened to fire employees if they continued with their protest.

Striking migrant textile workers deported:

In April, more than 5,000 foreign workers from several Asian countries working in six garment factories in Al Tajamouat Industrial City went on strike over low pay and poor working conditions. Workers had reportedly paid huge sums of money to obtain the initial work contracts in Jordan. However, the employers refused pay rises saying that this would drive them out of business and render them incapable of competing in the international garment industry. Representatives from the labour ministry, the textiles workers union and the Jordan Garments, Accessories, and Textiles Exporters' Association (JGATE) negotiated with a committee representing the workers. However, the labour office stated that the worker's strike was illegal as they had not given their employer two weeks' notice. At the same time the employers stated that the workers demands were illegal because the workers had finished their work contracts and were refusing to return to their home countries.

After almost a month long strike some 3,000 workers including 800 Bangladeshis returned to work after their employers agreed a minimal pay hike. Around 2,000 others continued to strike. However 15 Sri Lankan migrant workers who initiated the strike action were detained and were to be deported back to Sri Lanka.

Abuse at Classic Fashion plant:

Witnesses who worked at Classic Fashion, a factory employing around 4,900 mainly female South Asian workers, claimed that scores of young Sri Lankan women working there suffered routine sexual abuse and repeated rapes, in some cases even torture.

In October 2010, 2,400 workers had gone on strike demanding the removal of the alleged rapist, Anil. Classic's owner sent Anil away, but he returned after one month. A September report stated that a Jordanian human rights group found no evidence to support the rape allegations.

According to worker testimonies, the standard shift at Classic Fashion was 13 hours a day, six and seven days a week, with some 18-hour shifts. Workers were routinely cursed at, hit and short-changed of their wages for failing to reach mandatory production goals; they were housed in primitive dormitories without heat or hot water; they had extremely limited freedom of movement and were allowed to leave the factory compound just one day a week for six hours. Workers were threatened by management and forced to say that conditions were good.

In August, dozens of workers from Classic Fashion sought assistance claiming management was punishing them for taking part in a work stoppage in July. They reported that their contracts with Classic had ended and they had been transferred to a new employer who paid them less with longer working hours.

Garment workers beaten for striking:

On 20 August, a strike of 350 workers began in the Chinese owned International Business Garments Manufacturing Company Ltd (IBGM) factory sparked by a case of physical abuse. IBGM is a subcontract supplier to the Classic Fashion Company as well as other factories. The factory reportedly asks workers to do 11-hour shifts and forces additional unpaid overtime if a daily quota of garments is not reached. Workers are threatened if their quota is not reached and sick leave is fined. Reports also emerged of a Jordanian manager punishing male workers by burning their hands. An earlier strike, in May, over food deductions ended after management agreed not to continue illegally deducting money for meals. However, after the workers returned to work the practice continued.

Once the August strike began managers reportedly tried to drag the workers back into the factory. The IBGM management also posted the pictures of 12 male worker leaders who were to be fired and forcibly deported for their role in the dispute. At least seven striking workers, including four women, had been attacked and injured by IBGM managers. Prior to the strike, workers had filed complaints at the local labour office and with management.

Workers blamed and punished for strike action:

A Taiwanese factory, Maintrend International, employing over 600 mainly Bangladeshi workers shut down in September alleging that worker strikes were to blame for the closure. Most workers had been recruited just months earlier.

According to officials of the Bangladesh embassy, the Jordanian authorities are not allowing the transfer of these workers to other factories as they had previously taken strike action which is illegal. The workers were forced to remain at the camp and later return home. The workers, also including some Jordanians and Chinese, had gone on a month-long strike in mid-September 2011 demanding an end to alleged beatings, forced deportation when workers cannot reach mandatory production goals, filthy dormitories, arbitrary wage cuts and limited access to toilet. On 22 September Jordanian police stormed the Maintrend factory, firing teargas and beating the striking women. Dozens were reportedly injured. There were previous strikes in June 2011 and 2010.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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