Syrians in the Labour Market, Reality, Opportunities and Challenges

Tamkeen Center – participants recommended in a specialized seminar, stakeholders to work on creating a database; containing all Syrian refugees who are seeking to work, their experience, and sectors they are willing to work in, and another database which contains information about employers in Jordan and whereabouts.

This was during a roundtable conducted by Tamkeen Fields for Aid on “Syrians in the labour market; the reality, opportunities and challenges“. Participants further  recommended to find policies that facilitate registration of small traders projects and industrialists of  Syrians which ensure getting their rights, as well as developing a mechanism for the work of Syrians in the Kingdom without being restricted to specific employers, under the concept of “self- employment”, which is applied in several countries, in addition to raising the awareness of workers in regard to their legal rights and mechanism of reporting violations they are exposed to.

In the details of the first session which addressed the work of Syrian refugees in Jordan from the perspective of international human rights law, the legal status of Syrian workers in Jordan in terms of facilities, exemptions and protections, in addition to the rate of participation of Syrian workers in the Jordanian labor market and its impact on work opportunities for Jordanians.

The second session covered the role of international organizations in organizing the Syrian workers situation in the kingdom, Syrian workers characteristics and their skills, and how to benefit economically from the expertise and skills of Syrian workers.

During the discussion, participants indicated that Jordan received the largest number of Syrian refugees, which reached to one million and 800 thousand Syrian currently in Jordan, including 747.360 thousand refugees registered in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) until January of 2015. 14,500 of them are Palestinian refugees from Syria, of whom 50.7% female, while  49.3% of them male, in addition to other 700 thousand Syrians were staying in Jordan before the start of the Syria crisis and most of them were unable to return.

Syrian refugees constitute about 15% of the volume of Jordan’s population; distributed to all the provinces, where most of them reside in the capital at a rate of 27%, then 22% in the governorate of Irbid, including the Zaatari refugee camp at a rate of 13%, and the province of Mafraq at a rate of 12%.

According to the statistics of the Ministry of Labour, which indicated that the number of Syrian workers who were issued legal work permits since the beginning of 2016 until October 25th of the same year is a total of 31, 209 thousand work permits, concentrated in agricultural work by 8445 permits, and manufacturing industries by 5,346 permits. The Ministry of Labour estimated the economic activity rate among Syrians with 28%, or about 217,952 Syrian workers, while the total number of Syrian workers who are in Jordan in a regular and irregular situation, before and after the crisis, are estimated with 85,000 workers. Furthermore, the number of unemployed Syrians who are in Jordan, before and after the crisis, about 132,950 people who are continuously looking for work.

One of the most important effects in the Syrian increasing activity in labour market is due to the growth of irregular employment, in addition to the pushing towards the reduction of wages, due to the weak enforcement of laws, which paves the way for employers to recruit irregular workers, and paying them lower than the minimum wage of 190 dinars per month, or the equivalent of $268.

A researcher in the human rights field, Mr. Riyad Sobuh said; that all the rights stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights apply to all individuals including refugees and asylum seekers, and noted that the State may gradually implement the rights set forth in the Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESCR) according to a number of conditions including: gradient shouldn’t have discrimination, gradient must be to the fullest extent of resources, and in a duration of a specific time, in addition to emphasize that there are rights which gradient do not apply to them, such as the right to form trade unions, and the right to equitable remuneration.

He also noted that Jordan has ratified the majority of the fundamental human rights conventions, with the exception of the Convention on migrant workers, and indicated that although Jordan is a State receiving refugees for many years and has extensive experience in this area, but still there is no Jordanian legal framework which regulates asylum.

Mr. Hamdan Yaquob from the Ministry of Labour pointed out that the Ministry has issued nearly 33,000 work permits to Syrian workers, and stated that in the event of catching an irregular Syrian worker, the Ministry doesn’t deport the worker. Instead they apply light penalties such as warning the facility. He also added that the Ministry of Labour is working now on modifying the regulations, instructions and decisions to be compatible with changes occurring on the Jordanian labour market.

Mr. Mazen Marji; an economic expert, stressed the need to benefit from Syrian workers’ expertise, through the provision of grants and loans to small and medium enterprises, to be repaid from the financial returns of these projects.

Mr. Marji added that the government and relevant authorities should work on training Syrians for the purpose of employing them afterwards in the projects that will be provided.

The lawyer Hamada Abu Nijmeh confirmed that there is an urgent need to benefit from the skills of Syrians and train Jordanians on them, and to provide real employment opportunities which absorb Syrian workers.

He also indicated that communication with Syrian workers does not exist, and no integrated approach on a national level present to deal with the issue, as efforts are shattered, and there are inconsistencies in the numbers and characteristics of Syrian refugees, as there is no real planning to absorb migrant workers, without affecting the Jordanian workers.

In the same context, the response to Syrian refugees crisis coordinator in the ILO; Mrs. Maha Qatta’ said that international organizations are helping the Jordanian government to develop policies and plans in response to the Syrian asylum crisis.

She added that according to a study conducted by the International Labour Organization, 99% of Syrians work in the informal sector in difficult working conditions, and indicated that the majority of Syrian workers are in agriculture sector, retail trade and construction. She noted that there are 8 thousand work permits issued to the cooperative societies for Syrian workers in the agriculture sector, at the governorates of  Irbid and Mafraq.

While Mr. Hani Okahsa from ARDD- Legal Aid demonstrated that the majority of Syrian refugees came to Jordan from Syrian rural areas, and their education level is low and less than their Jordanian counterparts, and noted that the majority of Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR are female under the age of 25, and that 63% of Syrian men are involved in the labour market, while 28% of women are involved in the labour market.