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Jordanian labour market suffers from ‘abundant’ foreign workforce — study

Kingdom has set an example in region — ILO

By Camille Dupire - Oct 05,2017 - Last updated at Oct 05,2017

Syrian workers are seen working in a garment training factory in Mafraq recently (Photo by Camille Dupire)

AMMAN — The labour situation of Jordanians has become very much tied to the presence and situation of migrant workers and Syrian refugees, a recent report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) titled “A Challenging Market Becomes More Challenging” showed. 

Based on a comprehensive research started in September 2016, the study aimed to assess the impact of Jordan’s “extraordinarily generous contribution to host large refugee populations” in its national labour market and its working population.

The report was articulated around the questions of how to increase Jordanian employment in the national market, how to ensure decent working conditions for all workers and how to incorporate Syrian refugees without displacing Jordanian workers.

By opening its labour market to refugees and ensuring particular attention is paid to the application of minimum labour standards for migrant workers, regardless of their status, Jordan has set an example in the region, Frank Hagemann, ILO deputy regional director, said in the report.

However, many claim that the addition of some 200,000 Syrian refugees of working age has put an additional strain on an already complicated labour situation. In the past 15 years, the number of migrant workers has indeed tripled, heightening the competition on the national market to an "unprecedented level", the report showed.

“When we work on projects with Syrians, we are forced to accept a lower pay than we used to get before. If we refuse, foreigners will accept low wages and take our jobs,” said a Jordanian construction worker, who preferred to remain anonymous. 

Within the private sector, many sectors have become dominated by specific nationalities of migrant workers, the report showed, referring to the following classification: in agriculture, the dominant workforce is made of migrant workers (mostly Egyptian men) and Syrian refugee families; in manufacturing, most labourers are migrant workers (South Asian women) and Jordanian men; as for the construction sector, Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian males are equally employed; and in the domestic work, most of the labourers are South and East Asian women.

While Jordanians are on average more highly educated than their peers in the two other groups, migrant workers and Syrian refugees, a large share of unemployed Jordanians have no more education than migrant workers, the report showed. Therefore, much of the labour market segmentation has been based not on education or initial skills, but rather on nationality.  

For instance, most Egyptian construction workers have entered the sector with no prior experience or vocational training advantage over Jordanians, but because they were willing to accept less decent working conditions than their Jordanian peers, the report said.

Mahmood Abu Nada, a Syrian waiter at a local café, said: “In most cases, I work 10 hours a day; if there are customers, I stay longer. But I don’t get paid more than my usual salary.”

For economist Isam Qadamani, the foreign workforce is not the issue. “We see 600,000 Egyptians and 1 million Syrian refugees in the labour market. If they couldn’t find jobs here, they would have left. Jordan has huge working opportunities but Jordanians refuse to seize them,” he told The Jordan Times over the phone.

Because Jordanians are willing to work in all sectors and occupations only under the right circumstances, the study suggested that there is a significant scope to increase their employment, contrary to the common belief. 

The working conditions identified by Jordanians as important in any job have put them in a disadvantageous competition with migrant workers and Syrian refugees who are willing to accept late-payment of wages, non-payment for overtime or long and unpredictable working hours, among others, the report indicated. 

“In Jordan, we have to accept if the employer treats us in a bad way, because we are not in our country and we have no safety if we just leave the job. That’s why employers have high demand for Egyptian workers,” Qusai Dalal, an Egyptian construction worker told The Jordan Times at his workplace. 

In an effort to avoid a “lost generation” dependent on handouts and disenfranchised, the government has recently allowed Syrian refugees to penetrate the labour market.

For Qadamani, this did not create an additional strain on the local workforce, despite the popular opinion. “Since Jordan officially allowed Syrians to work [in July this year], we have not seen a huge turnout to obtain work permits,” he claimed. 

There are about 1.4 million Jordanians currently working and another 210,000 unemployed, according to the Labour Ministry. 

Although precise numbers are not available, the ministry recently suggested there may be as many as 1.4 million non-Jordanians working — about the same as the number of Jordanians.

The study highlighted a number of upsides to the integration of Syrian refugees into the market. Contrary to migrant workers who send most of their wages back home as remittances, the Jordanian economy benefits from the multiplier effect of Syrian wages being spent inside Jordan, the report stated.

For Qadamani, this is a utopian vision as he claimed that most Syrian refugees refrain from spending their earnings in the national market in hopes for a swift return to the neighbouring country.  

 

“The issue does not pertain so much to the pressure on local labourers since the increase of competition can only benefit a free market, but rather to the pressure on the economy as a whole,” he explained, noting that due to a lack of training and legal status, the foreign workforce tends to work in informal sectors, therefore not contributing to the national economy. 

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Comments

DO WE MEAN OUR SLAVES NICKNAMED DOMESTIC WORKERS OR THE LABOOURERS WHO BUILD OUR HOUSES, CUT OUR GRASSES, RUNNERS AND GUARDS THAT GUARDS OUR HOUSES BECAUSE CERTAINLY PROFESSIONAL JOBS. IRRONICALLY, THE OPPOSITE IS THE CASE IN THE POOLS OF HIGH TECH, HIGH PAYING AND PROFESSIONAL CARRERS LIKE ACADEMIC, RESEARCH AND PRODUCTION WHERE JORDAN IS SUFFERING FROM BRAIN DRAIN. JORDAN DOES NOT NEED DRIVERS, COOKS OR ANY OTHER FORMS OF SLAVE LABOURS. WHY COMPLAIN ABOUT THIS WHEN THE KINGDOM HAS A BOOMING INDUSTRIAL EMPIRE CALLED DOMESTIC HELP SECTOR ( MAIDS ).

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