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Jurisdictional confusion in Aqaba leaves migrant workers ‘vulnerable to abuse’ — report

Officials say jurisdiction lines distinctly drawn between ASEZA, Labour Ministry

By Ana V. Ibáñez Prieto - Oct 15,2018 - Last updated at Oct 15,2018

AMMAN — Policy gaps among the parties concerned with the regulation of migrant work in the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ) are leading to “rampant violations of the rights of the almost 15,000 expatriate labourers based in the area,” activists have said. 

The claim came in a report recently issued by the migrant rights group Tamkeen Fields for Aid, but officials have denied it, saying that there are distinct lines in the jurisdiction of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) and the Labour Ministry’s office in the area.  

"The presence of two parties concerned with the affairs of migrant workers in Aqaba has led to confusion among employees regarding the institutions they must report to when facing an issue,” Tamkeen Director Linda Al Kalash said during the presentation of the study, elaborating on the roles carried out by the Directorate of the Ministry of Labour in Aqaba and the ASEZA in the 17-year-old special economic zone.

“As it stands, workers now obtain their work and residency permits from the authority [ASEZA], but they cannot submit a complaint to them in the event of a disagreement with the employer or a violation to their rights,” the report explained, adding that meanwhile, “the Ministry of Labour is responsible for the labour inspections related to the workers’ rights”. 

“Such division of tasks has led to limitations on the supervisory role carried out by the two institutions, leading to widespread violations of all kinds,” Kalash charged. 

The migrant workers’ inability to transfer to another employer was one of the key issues highlighted by Tamkeen’s report, which noted that those employees who managed to transfer were coerced to pay their employers sums ranging from JD250 to JD1,200, while others were forced to renew their work permits with the same employer under threats of deportation.  


“None of us is free to transfer to another employer no matter what the reason is, and we are not even allowed to work in another factory owned by our boss, since he threatens to deport any worker who dares to request it,” a representative of a group of workers in the garment sector told The Jordan Times in a recent interview. 

“We cannot leave the employer, as he keeps on telling us that whoever wants to leave will be deported. Thus, we cannot tell him that we want to transfer to another sponsor,” another group of textile workers in Aqaba lamented in declarations to Tamkeen. 

The report also warned that 68.7 per cent of the workers in Aqaba paid money to recruitment offices or brokers in order to get a job, with many of them being subject to exploitation by the brokers later on. 

In this regard, the study noted that “there is no formal or non-formal institution directly concerned with combating brokerage, even though it is considered one of the most important issues faced by migrant workers in Jordan”.

“I had to pay a mediator in Egypt to come to Jordan to work,” a worker in the construction sector in Aqaba told the migrant rights organisation, recalling how he had to pay JD300 at a recruitment office to obtain a contract and JD500 to a sponsor for the issuance of a work permit, in addition to the regular fees.

Overtime working hours were another one of the issues highlighted in the study, which found expatriate labourers being forced to work overtime for long hours while not receiving extra wages.

The results also showed that several of the interviewed workers did not enjoy their annual vacation days or sick leaves, suffering from deductions from their wages in the event they did not show up at work because there are sick or on annual leave. 

Salim, a migrant worker in the hospitality sector in Aqaba, told The Jordan Times over the phone that “most workers stay for about 12 hours everyday with no overtime wages, even though our schedules are supposed to last for 8 hours”. 

Other workers in a cafe in Aqaba lamented that “no employee is allowed to have a day off during public or religious holidays, as this is the peak time for customers to come to the cafe”.

Domestic employees, building guards or agriculture workers were also prevented from leaving the house or workplace as the nature of their work requires them to be available to work on demand at all time, according to Tamkeen’s report. 

“We are forced to stay and sleep on the farm. We are always detained in it and we cannot leave, as the employers also stay there especially during harvest and planting periods,” a group of agricultural workers in Aqaba said in declarations to the migrant rights group. 

For her part, a domestic worker reported being forced to sleep in the workplace in accordance to the contract between her and the sponsor. “We [domestic workers] do not have the choice in regards to leaving our workplace or the house where we work, except in cases when the members of the family themselves go out, then we accompany them or if we were asked to go and buy groceries for the house,” she lamented. 

Responding to the claims, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Labour Mohammad Al Khatib clarified that relationship within the ASEZA and the ministry is regulated by a Memorandum of understanding (MoU) whereby the authority ASEZA implements Article 12 of the Labour Law and its amendments, while the compliance with the rest of the provisions of the legislation falls under the power of the Directorate of the Ministry of Labour in Aqaba.

“Thus, ASEZA carries out the labour inspections on the matter of work permits, while the ministry’s directorate in Aqaba regulates all aspects concerning the work environment, occupational safety and health,” Khatib added, noting that labour disputes are also the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour. 

The official also stressed that workers wishing to transfer to another employer can do so through ASEZA and that any violations to their rights must be reported to the ministry, through a complaint submitted to the directorate in Aqaba.  

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has addressed the issue over the past years through the “Promotion of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in the Aqaba Special Economic Zone” programme, which worked to promote social justice and expand decent work opportunities through better compliance with fundamental principles and rights at work and the enforcement of national labour legislation in the ASEZA.

The project was a result of an ILO joint migration and labour inspection audit at the ASEZ in May 2011, which identified various deficits including in the areas of recruitment and training of labour inspectors, migration governance and coordination with the Ministry of Labour.

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