Migrants in Jordan: How the unions plan to protect and organise them

The capital of Jordan, Amman, is expanding fast, with new blocks of flats, new roads, and more... Migrant workers are employed everywhere, supporting the city’s rapid development.

Egyptians are the largest migrant group. They work in all of the badly paid, and dangerous jobs in building, agriculture and the service industry.

Jordan also has 700,000 Iraqi refugees. More and more of them are also looking for odd jobs to survive, receiving low wages under-the-table.

The Jordanian textile export industry is also employing large numbers of migrant workers from Asia; they are working in the qualified industrialised zones or QIZs.

Unpaid back wages, failure to pay the minimum wage, confiscation of passports, forced unpaid overtime, bad housing conditions and food… Like other countries, especially in the neighbouring Gulf States, migrant workers in Jordan are being exploited and badly treated.

BILAL MALKAWI (International secretary of the GFJTU and ITF representative in the Arab world):
“The first priority for the GFJTU was to amend the Jordanian Labour code to allow the migrant workers to join the unions and to be organised in the Jordanian labour movement. This action has been forwarded actually to the parliament and the new labour code will be amended in the next few months. In this case, the migrant workers will be having the right to join the Jordanian unions. It’s not enough. The other priority for the GFJTU is to get these migrant workers involved in the Jordan trade union movement through giving them the opportunity and encouraging them to form all unions committees and to be part of the big union that is the umbrella of these union committees”.

The Jordanian unions also want to make an annual report on violations of migrant workers’ rights in Jordan, in cooperation with the unions from the countries that these workers come from, and to take concrete action based on that report.

At the local level, the textile union is leading the way in defending migrant workers.

In these industrialised zones, jobs are insecure and poorly paid. Only Jordanian women with no other choice work in these factories. Two-thirds of the workforce is from Asia and the majority are young women.

Overtime, non-payment of wages, sexual harassment, violence… there are many complaints.
Ashad Pehlwan, originally from Pakistan, used to work in a textile factory himself before working for the union.

ASHAD PEHLWAN (a textile union organiser):

“One young woman from the factory came to me because her foreman was beating her. I helped her. Afterwards she brought some other young women and men who had problems. I helped them too. Now I can say that all of the workers trust me, whether they are Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Indians or even Jordanians.”

The textile union has managed to get 15 collective agreements signed.

It has secured wage increases, transportation to the workplace, decent housing and healthy food. These improvements have helped migrant workers as much as Jordanians. New health insurance is one example

FATALLAH OMRANI (President of the General Trade Union of workers in textile, garment & clothing industries):

“We are doing several things to help foreign workers specifically. Our union tells them about the laws in Jordan, so that they know more about their rights and duties.
Through this method, our union has managed to build a spirit of teamwork and good understanding between Jordanian and foreign workers. Now we are helping each other”.

The ITUC regards protecting migrant workers as a priority, and in particular the increasing numbers of migrant workers who are women.

There are 46,000 migrant domestic workers from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Indonesia employed in Jordan. 20,000 others are working here illegally.

The ITUC has repeatedly denounced the serious violations of domestic workers’ rights in the world and is calling for a new International Convention to protect them.

With support from UNIFEM, Jordan has launched an awareness-raising campaign to change people’s attitudes. This is an encouraging step in a region that the ITUC has continually criticised for the many violations of migrant workers’ rights.

NEZAM QAHOUSH (Coordinator of the ITUC’s Middle East Office (Amman):

“We are making our best to work with different groups who work in the region whether they are trade unions and NGO’s towards finding solutions to workers in different countries and give them really best and sincere effort to help them either solve those abuses with their employers and to “give” them reach their home country safe”.

“In this regards, the ITUC works closely with the General Federation of the Jordanian Trade unions and the all Pakistan Trade Unions and the Sri Lankan trade union worker federation which they signed 2 agreements with the GFJTU to try their best as sending and receiving countries trade unionist to solve the problems migrant workers faced either in theirs sending countries or in Jordan as a receiving country”.

To boost South/South solidarity, the ITUC has encouraged the signing of trade union partnership agreements between the departure and host countries for migrants. Three of these have already been signed between Indonesia and Malaysia, Senegal and Mauritania, and Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

For the ITUC:
- Video production: M. Shobash, R. Khawaja, Y. Eleker (Al Awael, M. Abu Othman )
- Posters: Unifem-Jordan
- Post-production video/web: Benoit Collienne
- Editorial coordination: Natacha David – ITUC Publications.