Unintended consequences: Migrant worker crackdown costing farmers more in Jordan
Earlier this month, the Labour Ministry suspended the recruitment of foreign workers in a bid to secure more jobs for unemployed Jordanians.
Musa Mashatleh, a farmer who owns a citrus farm in the northern Jordan Valley, said that guest labourers, mostly Egyptians with work permits, have grown more demanding over the past few weeks.
In addition, the inspection campaigns conducted by the Labour Ministry and the fines imposed on employers that hire illegal guest workers have complicated the situation of the already burdened sector, Mashatleh claimed.
"Knowing that they are very few now and no new labourers will be permitted to work, legal guest workers have become notably opportunist, demanding higher wages," he told The Jordan Times in a phone interview.
Mashatleh noted that these workers now demand JD2 or JD1.75 as the minimum wage per hour, whereas they used to accept half that amount.
"It took me a week to find three workers to help me at my farm," he said.
Responding to a question on why Jordanians shy away from working in the agriculture sector, Mashatleh said it is all due to the "culture of shame".
"Most Jordanians still see agriculture as indecent and a low-paying job, preferring office work … Surprisingly, most of them are sons of farmers," he said.
However, Mashatleh said that a few Jordanians are willing to work in the sector, but they demand high wages.
Justifying the government's decision to suspend the recruitment of guest labourers, Labour Minister Nidal Katamine said at the time that some two million foreigners are currently working in the Kingdom, nearly half of them without work permits.
He added that the Syrian refugees complicated the ministry's efforts to combat unemployment in the country.
According to a recent Department of Statistics (DoS) report, the unemployment rate during the first quarter of this year stood at 12.8 per cent, compared with 11.4 per cent during the same period in 2012. However, Mashatleh said no Syrians were working in the Jordan Valley because they are not allowed to work in border areas.
"The government has to intervene and set an hourly wage in order to resolve the irregularities resulting from its ill-judged decision," Mashatleh added.
Ibrahim Bashtawi, an owner of a vegetable farm in the Northern Jordan Valley, echoed Mashatleh's sentiments.
"It has become a headache. You find no guest labourers and if you find them, they demand higher wages," Bashtawi told The Jordan Times, blaming the government's recent ban on the recruitment of foreign workers for the problem.
"Jordanians demand high salaries, medical insurance and social security coverage — which we cannot afford," Bashtawi said.
Last week, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour tasked Agriculture Minister Hazem Nasser with holding a meeting with Katamine to open the door for recruiting guest workers in the agriculture sector for a specific period until the labour market is organised.
Last week, Amman Chamber of Commerce Chairman Riad Saifi called on the government to exclude some sectors from its decision to suspend the recruitment of guest workers, according to the Jordan News Agency, Petra.
Saifi said the chamber sent a memorandum to the Labour Ministry, requesting the exclusion of the commercial, restaurant, hotel and service sectors from the decision.
Agriculture Ministry Spokesperson Nimer Haddadin said the whole issue was under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labour.
Haddadin also noted that, in response to farmers' pressure, the agriculture minister sent an official memo to the labour minister, requesting that farmers be given permits to recruit guest workers.
"No such decision has been taken," Haddadin told The Jordan Times over the phone on Sunday.
Two week ago, tens of farmers from the Jordan Valley staged a sit-in outside Parliament, demanding that the agriculture sector be excluded from the decision to suspend recruitment.
Jordan Exporters and Producers Association for Fruits and Vegetables President Suleiman Hiyari said the Labour Ministry was still committed to its decision.
"The minister [Katamine] was convincing. He told me that there are too many guest workers beyond the actual needs of the local market," Hiyari said.