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Despite Labour Law, agriculture sector suffers from ‘persistent deficits’ — ILO

Majority of worksites included in the study were ‘rarely, if ever, visited by labour inspectors, which otherwise act to ensure legislative compliance’

By Ana V. Ibáñez Prieto - Oct 17,2018 - Last updated at Oct 17,2018

AMMAN — Jordan’s agricultural sector is currently suffering from “persistent deficits in decent work and employment conditions for workers”, a report issued by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said recently, pointing to that a large number of workers in the sector are either migrant workers or Syrian refugees. 

The shortcomings identified by the report included a lack of wage protection, an absence of social security coverage for workers, and poor occupational safety and health measures, while the majority of worksites included in the study were “rarely, if ever, visited by labour inspectors, who otherwise play an important role to ensure compliance with national labour legislation and international standards”.

The Ministry of Labour was not available for comment on the report, despite several attempts of contact by The Jordan Times.  

The results were based on a survey targeting 1,125 Syrian agricultural workers with work permits, which assessed the workers’ employment history, work permit status, working conditions and work arrangements. In addition, the study included interviews with a total of 33 employers in the sector, as well as focus-group discussions with informal labour brokers. 

Falling under the Norwegian-funded ILO project “Job creation for Syrian refugees and Jordanian host communities through green works in agriculture and forestry”, the study identified that “in the agriculture sector, foreign labour — particularly by Syrian refugees – makes up a considerable portion of the workforce, and work permits are key to access formal work opportunities”.

“Permits in the agriculture sector are generally perceived as easier to obtain than permits in other sectors and it is estimated that roughly 37 per cent of all work permits issued to Syrian workers are in the agriculture sector,” the study said. 

“But while work permits are a step towards the formalisation of workers, they are not a guarantee of decent work,” ILO Regional Resilience and Crisis Response Specialist Maha Kattaa said in a press release issued by the UN agency. 

“The analysis shows that even with the provision of work permits, a lot of work is still needed in the sector to improve the living and working conditions of farmers,” the specialist said. 

No conditions specify the minimum wage or hours of work of the employees in the sector, and 83 per cent of the respondents reported not being registered with the Social Security Corporation, according to the report. 

In addition, 76 per cent of the workers stated that they did not receive any occupational health and safety information from their employers, while 86 per cent said that safety conditions were not appropriate in their workplace. 

The study also found evidence of child labour among Syrian refugees, with half of the survey participants admitting the presence of workers under the age of 15. 

When asked about the conditions leading to the status of the sector, director of the migrant rights group Tamkeen Fields for Aid, Linda Kalash, told The Jordan Times that “gaps exists in the current legislation”.

“In 2008, the Labour law was amended to include agriculture workers under its umbrella with the condition that regulations are issued in order to organise their work,” Kalash said, lamenting that “10 years later, no regulation has been issued”. 

Small wages that vary according to the season, sexual harassment against women, overtime working hours and lack of social protection are some of the issues pointed out by the expert, who added that “the regulations on the issuance of work permits has left room open for more exploitation, as many Syrian refugees are prevented from their freedom of movement after signing their contracts”. 

Director of the Phenix Centre for Economic and Informatics Studies Ahmad Awad commented that the centre has issued many reports and studies verifying the findings of the recent ILO study, lamenting that “only a few days ago, the Ministry of Labour rejected an application for the establishment of a trade union for agricultural workers, which could have actually been key to the improvement of the working conditions in the sector”. 

In addition, the expert noted that despite the efforts of the Ministry of Labour and the ILO in implementing programmes towards decent work conditions, “the projects have not really contributed to improvements on the ground or the issuance of a special by-law for workers in the agriculture sector, as it was stipulated in the Labour Law”.

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