Claims for the protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers legislatively and on the ground

Amman– Every year on the 18th of December the world celebrates the International Migrants Day to mark the day that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families in 1990.

This year we mark this day with an increased focus placed on migration as a result of thousands of people leaving their countries due to political turmoil or instability to migrate to other countries despite insecure conditions and fears of the unknown, complexity and risks.

Like the other countries in the region, Jordan has been affected by this wave of migration as it received thousands of migrants from neighbouring countries, who then natural began entering the labour market; thus creating new challenges both in the market and for the migrants themselves.

The Jordanian labour market includes large numbers of migrant workers, who work in it either officially or unofficially.

According to the Ministry of Labour, the number of migrant workers in the country has reached 1.5 million workers, of whom 315,045 are registered with the ministry; while the rest are unregistered and work in various economic sectors.

Egyptian workers constitute the bulk of these workers, followed by Syrians as their numbers increased dramatically in the last six years due to Syrians seeking asylum in Jordan because of the war that is raging in their country.

Within this context, it should be noted that while Jordan has not ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families of 1990, the country’s legislations relating to the status of migrant workers stipulates that their rights should be protected as prescribed under the labour Law, the social security system, the Penal Code and the protection against the crime of human trafficking, and Residency and Foreign Affairs law. However, while these legislations offer some partial or sectorial protections to migrant workers; they also deprive migrant workers from some of their rights as well.

Another fact that is necessary to note is that the Jordanian legal system still lacks a legal framework that is clearly based on the full equality between migrant workers and Jordanians in the field of their rights.

Although Jordan is one of the first countries in the Arab region to enact legislation to protect the rights of migrant workers, the failure to enforce these laws and legislation made these legislations lose their value as migrant workers generally, and those who are unregistered particularly are exposed to a number of violations. These violations need to be first uncovered and addressed in order to start finding the appropriate solutions for them based on the recognized rights of this category of workers both in the national and international legislation.

Based on the complaints lodged at Tamkeen Fields for Aid, the most common violations faced by migrant workers in Jordan are: restrictions on freedom, the seizure of passports, non-payment of wages, denying them food or contact with their families or healthcare, verbal and physical abuse, in addition to cases of fraud, exploitation and extortion and the demanding of large sums of money for their passports.

Other violations also include not providing them with their personal space to sleep, overworking them in terms of working hours and working in multiple places at once; deprivation of overtime allowance and leave; and domestic workers being subjected to sexual harassment.

Due to all of this, Tamkeen Fields for Aid denounces the circular disseminated by the Minister of Labour which prohibits migrant workers from cancelling his work permit in case he does not want to continue with the same employer prior to the end of the work contract between them. The circular also “prevents migrant workers from renewing their work permits under a new employer and that in this case he/she will be deported in coordination with the original employer and the Directorate of Residency and Borders. The circular continues by stating that “in the case where the work permit has expired and both parties not wishing to renew it, then the migrant worker cannot renew his work permit working with another employer and shall be deported in coordination with the employer, and the Directorate of Residence and Borders. However, if the employer agreed on the transfer of the worker to work with another employer then the worker must obtain a clearance from the previous employer”.

Tamkeen also affirms that this circular reinforces the concept of forced labour and contradicts the international agreements signed and ratified by Jordan. Additionally, the circular is in clear violation of the bilateral agreements between Jordan and the countries of origin of the workers.

The Minister’s circular is an explicit violation of the right to work and the freedom of choice associated with it. It also promotes forced labour as past experiences have clearly shown that some employers exploit workers in the name of the clearance.

Furthermore, deporting workers in such manner without them committing any violations or giving them the chance to use their opportunity to appear in front of a court of law is an arbitrary use of power; especially as the refusal of the worker to continue in his current position might stem from being subjected to violations like being deprived of wage or having them delayed; the seizure of documents, the denial of leave, the detention or restriction of freedom or other types of violations.

Thus, Tamkeen asserts the illegality of penalizing migrant workers or holding them responsible for any violations they may face, or the unwillingness of the employer to continue working with the migrant or vice versa.
The Centre points out that this circulation takes Jordan multiple steps back and erases all the positive developments it had made in international forums; adding that there several other ways to regulate the labour market starting with a comprehensive study of the market and its needs.

In addition, Tamkeen condemns the exclusion of migrant workers from the minimum wage law, as well as the new regulations governing the entry, exit, leave and return of Egyptian workers who have a work permit in the Kingdom which stipulates that the workers must obtain the employer’s consent to leave in cases of vacation leave, exit and re-entry; as well as the need of the work to obtain a clearance certificate from the employer in case of termination of the contract and the final leave of the worker; with these regulations resulting in workers being subjected to extortion from their employers to get these consents.

The Centre also condemns the continuing practices of administrative, arbitrary and illegal forms of detention of migrant workers.

Therefore and on this International Migration Day, Tamkeen recommends that the Jordanian government to join the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families of 1990 and amend the national legislations accordingly. The Centre also recommends that inspections of the working places of migrant workers should be increased and more efficient and to include homes where domestic workers live. Also, the public awareness level should be raised about the rights of this vulnerable category in our society. And finally the practice of administrative, arbitrary and illegal detention of migrant workers should be eradicated and stopped.