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Foreign workers still subject to exploitation due to fragile legal status — report

By Ana V. Ibáñez Prieto - May 22,2018 - Last updated at May 22,2018

The vast majority of migrant workers in the construction sector work in an informal manner (Petra photo)

AMMAN — The construction sector in Jordan relies “heavily” on informal migrant workers and Syrian refugees, a regional report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre recently stated, warning that most workers in the sector are subject to exploitation by their employers due to their “fragile” legal status. 

In a recent interview with The Jordan Times, Jordan Labour Watch Director Ahmad Awad echoed the findings of the report, noting that “the vast majority of workers in the construction sector work in an informal manner, even though most of the organisations employing them are formally registered with the official competent authorities”.

“Such workers do not benefit from any form social protection within the framework of social security and they suffer from issues such as easy dismissals, employers’ failure to apply occupational safety and health standards and the lack of paid leave,” said. 

The report, titled “Understanding Risks to Construction Workers in the Middle East”, has pointed out that the top three countries of origin for registered migrant workers in Jordan are Egypt with 170,000 workers, Bangladesh with 50,574 registered employees and Syria with 33,485 workers.

“But these figures do not reflect the full reality that exists on the ground,” the study claimed, pointing to the fact that, from a total of 1.2 million foreign labourers present in the Kingdom, only  315,000 hold official work permits.

Furthermore, the Jordanian government has estimated that two thirds of the registered foreign employees with work permits in the agriculture sector are working informally in the construction sector, the report highlighted, concluding that such arrangements allow for registered migrant workers to fall into the category of informal employment as they move to another employer. 

“The current model used for the issuance of work permits in Jordan requires the employee to commit to work for a specific employer — which increases the vulnerability of their social and economic status due to the instability of the construction sector,” Awad commented, calling for changes in the current model so as to allow foreign employees to work with any employer they wish to. 

“All these employees fall outside the legitimate employment structures and suffer from the lack of application of the Labour Code,” the study warned, stressing that, although the provisions of the Jordanian Labour Law shall protect all workers regardless of their nationality or legal status, they are “not really applied on the ground”.

 “The majority of Jordanian labour standards do not discriminate against migrant workers but these workers still suffer from exploitation,” Awad said, criticising the fact that “weak law enforcement is the main reason behind this, along with the weakness of trade union organisations in defending the interests and rights of their workers.”

The report also noted the existence of a breach between the roles performed by local and foreign workers, explaining that, while Jordanians acquire functions such as full time supervision, management and operations, Egyptians and Syrians are employed in short-term positions that demand great physical effort, as they are granted work permits based on low skilled employment that restrict them from pursuing jobs based on their qualifications.

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