Claims of mass worker abuse under the spotlight in Jordan: US Free Trade deal at stake

Published March 25th, 2013 - 08:13 GMT
Guest labourers in Jordan (Jordan Times Photo)
Guest labourers in Jordan (Jordan Times Photo)

The Labour Ministry on Sunday said it will investigate allegations of violations to labourers' rights mentioned in a report by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (IGLHR).

"The ministry has received a copy of the report and will form a committee to look into the claims of violations to human rights and labourers' rights in the areas in question," Labour Ministry Spokesperson Haitham Khasawneh told The Jordan Times.

"Upon the completion of its mission, the ministry will issue a report to respond to the allegations," Khasawneh noted.

In the report, which was issued last week, the IGLHR urged the US to suspend the Free Trade Agreement with Jordan until the Kingdom guarantees the protection of guest labourers in Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ).

The report noted that on January 28, Jordan and the US agreed to a new initiative aimed at promoting labour rights and improving working conditions in the Kingdom.

According to the new implementation plan, "Jordan confirms its ongoing commitment to protect internationally recognised labour rights and effectively enforce Jordan’s labour laws”.

The IGLHR said it will send a fact-finding delegation to Jordan, in order to meet with the Jordanian General Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Garment and Clothing Industries and assess its practices.

If abuses are proven to have taken place “the US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement should be suspended — including duty-free access to the US — until the Jordanian government and union finally implement concrete steps to guarantee internationally recognised workers rights standards for Jordan’s tens of thousands of guest workers”, the IGLHR said. 

The organisation claimed that despite "a full 11 years after the implementation of the US-Jordan FTA, guest workers are still denied their most fundamental human and worker rights". 

The report cited Classic Fashion Apparel Industry, which has more than 5,600 workers, mostly women, noting that despite successive reports accusing the factory management of ongoing violations of the workers' rights, the relevant authorities have failed to take any action to investigate the violations.

Meanwhile, Fathallah Emrani, president of the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Garment and Clothing Industries, told the Jordan Times on Sunday that the report contained inaccuracies and was based on unverified testimonies by individuals who are outside the Kingdom.

"The union will answer the IGLHR officially with figures and facts. The report claims that 90 per cent of the guest workers are subscribed to the union which is not true. The figure is less than 12 per cent; however, the union defends labourers' rights even if they are not members," Emrani said.

He added that the union has 19 committees tasked with following up on the affairs of workers serving in the textile and garment sector, noting that in 2012 the workers staged 11 protests compared with 42 in 2011.

Meanwhile, Linda Kallash, director of the Daem (support) Observatory for Consultation and Training, told The Jordan Times that the centre has received dozens of complains from QIZ guest workers claiming their employers have not fully respected their rights or the conditions mentioned in their work contracts, particularly with regards to overtime compensation, proper work conditions, and a healthy and suitable hostel.

"We have hired a team of experts who visited the QIZ in Irbid in order to verify the workers' complaints, which were mostly found to have grounds, and the experts are currently preparing a comprehensive report on their findings," Kallash said.

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