Spotlight on Hanan Gusab Isamail Siaqal (GFJTU-Jordan)

“Women workers are demanding more respect”

“Women workers are demanding more respect”

Excessive working hours, low wages, transport problems and maternity rights are all mentioned by Hanan Gusab Isamail Siaqal, a member of the women’s committee of the trade union in Irbid. She explains the problems faced by Jordanian and immigrant women workers in the textile factories of the “QIZs”.

When did you first get interested in union matters?

I have worked for 5 years in the textile factories of the “qualified industrialized zones” (or “QIZ”) (1), but it was when I attended a trade union seminar that I started to have problems. Although I was working till 10pm my manager told me I wasn’t working long enough. We had an argument and he sacked me. Four months ago I found the job I now have, in the Rubina factory. At the start I was employed as an unskilled worker, but since then I was put in charge of a production line.

What does your family think about your trade union work?

My husband supports me. At first I had to convince him that I needed to work, and then to get him to accept my trade union activities. He also works in the textile industry and understands the problems. He also participated in some activities and is sensitive to people’s problems, so he’s getting more and more interested. I don’t have any children yet so it’s easier to find the time.
But I’m very lucky and am in an exceptional position. In Jordanian culture it’s very hard for a husband to allow his wife to take part in such activities, to let me go to a trade union seminar in India, for instance! Generally speaking, the husband, his family, the neighbours, and in fact everyone keeps an eye on the wife all the time. It’s like that in Amman, but in small towns and villages it’s even worse.

What are the main problems facing women workers in the textile factories?

Women have many problems. It’s very hard to fulfil your family responsibilities whilst also having to contribute to the family income owing to rising cost of living in Jordan. The most common complaints are about overtime. Many employers put pressure on women workers to make them work harder and harder.

Can the women working in these factories take maternity leave?

The majority of the workers are young women, mostly between 20 and 35 years old. Once a woman is married she finds it harder to get a job, and even being engaged is a barrier to recruitment. And if a woman gets pregnant she often loses her job and cannot use her legal entitlement to 12 weeks’ maternity leave.

Mothers pay between 10 and 15 JD (10 to 15 €) per month to put their children in a day care centre, but there are not enough places. Often it is the families, i.e. the mothers or sisters, who have to help out. The union is asking for employers to organise childcare facilities.

Is transport also a problem?

Lots of the young Jordanian women in the textile factories live in villages, a long way from their work. The employers do not organise any transport for them. And after 6pm there are no public buses.

What are relations like between Jordanian women workers and migrant women workers?

We are good at helping each other now. At the start, migrant workers were suspicious of me, but when they realised that I was trying to help them they changed their attitude. I began working in this factory as a manual worker, so I know what it is like for them and can see what kind of problems workers are likely to face. It has not been easy for Bengali workers to have an Arab woman as their foreman. But it can work both ways, and they have now realised that we are on the same side!

Are language differences a major barrier?

That can be a problem to begin with, yes. But those workers who have been here for 4 or 5 years speak Arabic like me.

Has your trade union work taken you to any international events?

I have attended two regional seminars for women, the first in India on collective bargaining, and the second on maternity protection. We had some good exchanges and have kept in touch; I’ve found it an enriching experience.

What do women workers want most from the unions?

Women workers want the unions to organise training sessions on their rights and on specific women’s issues. In most cases, the main demand is to be respected, since some foremen do not respect women and speak coarsely to them. Some women are sexually harassed. In the QIZs, we have two clinics that provide good assistance to women workers. But we could do with one more clinic to cover the Sahab region, in particular.

Interview by Natacha David

(1) QIZs = “qualified industrialised zones”

- Union View: Migrant workers in the Middle East

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