Systematic abuse and discrimination

published 18-12-2013 08:47, last modified 18-12-2013 08:47
Garment workers in Jordan are paid less than the legal minimum wage. Their status in special Qualified Industrial Zones makes them extremely vulnerable to abuse, and their legal status is completely dependent upon the whim and goodwill of their employers.

Migrant workers in Jordan usually work in certain jobs that Jordanians avoid, such as domestic work, construction, the apparel and textile industry and other services industries. The majority of migrant  garment workers work inside Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs) which are the result of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed by the Government of Jordan and the Government of the United States in 2000. They offer open access to the US market, custom free and quota free, in addition to 100 percent tax exemption. In addition, all the equipment and raw material used by the factories are exempted from taxes.

One of the main objective of QIZs was to create job opportunities for Jordanians; however the  number of Jordanians in QIZs is relatively small – around 20 -30 percent.  The working environment in the QIZs with low wages and long working hours discourage Jordanians from working there. Additionally, QIZ employers prefer Asian labor because they are vulnerable to being exploited by employers, by working long hours under harsh living conditions. They accept the mistreatment because otherwise they would lose their job or be deported, and lose the opportunity to work.

In 2010, there were 27816 male and female migrant workers in (QIZs), most of them were: Sri Lankan, Vietnamese , Bangladeshi,  Chinese,  and Pakistani. The workers of QIZs are not allowed to transfer to any other field, and the employer is responsible for the workers’ return at the end or at legal termination of the employment contract.  

Violations of the rights of QIZs’ workers include long working hours, physical or verbal abuse and a lack of health insurance . When a case of infectious disease is discovered, the worker is deported instead of given medical treatment, while the rest of the workers are not informed or examined, a neglect that can spreads the infection among thousands of workers in some factories. The local social security law covers work injuries, but the worker loses this right if he or she is not enrolled by the employer.

Many workers do not have access to their employment contract or other documents to prove employment status and working conditions. Some employers retain their workers passports. Some migrants are deceived with unreal employment contracts and wages. Once they are in Jordan, they are forced to sign different contracts with much less monthly salaries than previously agreed upon.  Many workers are forced to work 10-14 hours per day with little or no rest days and paid overtime. The vast majority of workers are women and reports of sexual harassment and abuse are common.

A foreigner has to pay 1,5 Jordanian dinar for each day he stays in Jordan without a residency permit. Any illegal foreigner cannot not leave the country except when all fines are paid, or an exemption from the Minister is obtained. A Jordanian employer has to apply for residency and work permit for the worker. However, when he does not carry out or refuses to complete these obligations, it is the migrant worker who has to pay the fines and is penalized and detained for violating the law. In many cases, it was difficult for migrant workers to return to their home countries because of accumulated fines.

Migrants are subject to institutionalized discrimination on wages. The minimum wage is set at  JD 150 per month except for workers in the garment industry, domestic workers and gardeners, whose minimum wage is set at the lower rate of JD 110 per month. Workers state that when they protest against work conditions or demand their rights they are often threatened with deportation and the cancellation of their permits – thus rendering them illegal and subject to daily fines. For this reasons many workers endure the poor conditions in silence..