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Domestic worker recruitment agencies decry hiring practices on social media

Labour Ministry says new system safeguards workers’ rights

By Maram Kayed - Nov 10,2020 - Last updated at Nov 10,2020

AMMAN — Domestic worker recruitment agencies are claiming that some social media pages have turned into “black markets for the trafficking of domestic workers”, who left their employers’ homes without notice.

President of the Domestic Helpers Recruitment Agencies Association Khaled Hseinat told The Jordan Times that some social media pages have been “posting advertisements for the rental of domestic workers, who left their work without notice”.

Domestic recruitment agencies said: “The renting or transferring of domestic workers is susceptible to human trafficking and other violations.”

Hseinat said that owners of domestic worker recruitment agencies have vowed to sue all those who aid in the rental or transfer of domestic worker to a new employer, which he likened to “actions that fall under human trafficking practices”.

One of the advertisements posted on Facebook read: “Freelance domestic helper available for six hours a day except Mondays.”

The person, who posted the ad, said that she used to employ two domestic helpers, but she could no longer afford to pay for the second domestic helper so she allowed her to freelance.

“Instead of sending the girl back, which would mean that she would lose her source of income and can no longer support her family, I offered her to stay in my house, eat and sleep here, but she has to earn her money from her freelance work, and she said she preferred that to being sent back to her home country,” read the post.

Yazeed Hassan, an owner of a domestic worker recruitment agency, attributed the rise in this phenomenon to a new system recently approved by the Ministry of Labour, which “prevents agency owners from hiring or following-up on domestic workers after three months of their arrival in Jordan”.

Hassan noted: “This has allowed some households to sell the services of their workers to other people or to hire them as day labourers through brokers as an added source of income”.

He added: “This phenomenon has also increased due to the coronavirus crisis. Many families are not able to afford extra help due to the crisis, so instead they rent out their services and make some money off of them.”

Appealing to Labour Minister Maen Qatamin, Hseinat requested that the ministry intervene and “protect domestic workers from a series of violations that they are subjected to due to loopholes in the legislation of the new system”.

In response to these claims, Labour Ministry Spokesperson Mohammad Zyoud told The Jordan Times that the ministry is “keen to continuously monitor the work of establishments in various sectors, including the foreign labour sector, to ensure their compliance with the Labour Law and provide a safe work environment for Jordanian and foreign workers alike”.

Zyoud said that the reason behind implementing the new system is that “some recruitment agencies proved more abusive to domestic workers than some households, with some workers being subjected to violence, threat and restriction on their freedom by these agencies”.

The spokesperson said that the ministry “liberated foreign workers from an additional source of pressure, as they previously had to deal with the requirements of both the agencies and their employers”.

Zyoud noted that “just because agencies cannot monitor domestic workers after three months does not mean that the ministry is not ready to receive complaints from foreign workers and respond to them immediately,” adding that the ministry is “the authority that these complaints would have reached anyhow if they were reported by the agencies”.

The ministry is also preparing booklets and educational films to raise awareness among foreign workers about their labour rights and duties in the Kingdom in an effort to fight this phenomenon, added Zyoud.

However, Rani Masri, another domestic worker recruitment agency owner, said that that the new system approved by the Ministry of Labour “opens the door for human trafficking crimes, and perhaps the creation of a black market that employs domestic workers in unethical occupations, specifically workers whom have run away from abusive households”.

“People known as ‘brokers’ help domestic workers flee so that they can employ them as day labourers and take a share of their wages,” noted Masri.

“Now that we do not have the right to follow up on the workers, brokers or abusive employers are basically allowed to trade domestic helpers,” Masri added.

The new system, which was issued at the end of former Prime Minister Omar Razzaz’s government, “violates the agreements that the Ministry of Labour has signed with the countries of these workers”, added Masri.

Hseinat said: “The danger of Paragraph (C) of Article (15) of the new system is that it allows the owner of the office to intervene only by transferring the domestic worker to another house in the event that they are subjected to physical assault proven by a forensic report or in the event that they are not being paid their wages during the first three months of their entry into the country.”

Hseinat noted that the fact that the article “does not allow the agency owner to intervene in case a worker is subjected to other assaults, such as sexual or verbal abuse, or to sue the employer and inform the competent authorities. This will increase the rate of domestic workers, who leave their employer without notice, as well as, suicide, murder and sexual assault rates.”

Mahmoud Attar, a lawyer who specialises in labour rights, said that the new system “does have loopholes, but the three-month monitoring period is not among those shortcomings”.

“The shortcomings in the new system are similar to the shortcomings in the Labour Law in general, especially regarding the lack of criminalisation of sexual acts against the worker, but the three-month period is not of concern,” added Attar.

The labour rights lawyer noted: “Agencies cannot act on their own even if they receive a complaint from a worker. They would have to revert to help from the Ministry of Labour, so all that the ministry has done is make that process one step shorter, which is in fact quicker and safer for the worker.”

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