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Jordan… Living Below The Minimum Wages

6 October, 2021 | Jehan Kurdi

Hamza, 21, has to work a ten hour daily shift in a café in Irbid to cover his university fees. His salary is a mere JD 250, and on most days he works overtime without any remuneration.

In fear of losing his job, Hamza is hesitant to ask for a raise in salary, overtime remuneration or time off from work, all of which are rights stipulated in Jordan’s National Labour Code. “It’s the same salary everywhere! Even if I were to leave and work somewhere else I will have to endure the same working conditions. I have no choice. I need to complete my education and cover my living expenses.”

Hamza represents a large sector of workers who have chosen not to complain or demand the application of the minimum wage law which recently has recently increased minimum wages by 18% (JD 220 to JD 260). This comes at a time when unemployment has reached 24.7%, according to the Department of Statistics, making many workers prefer to accept the status quo rather than file any complaints and risk losing their jobs.

The decision to increase minimum wages which was issued by the trilateral committee for labour affairs and published in the official gazette on February 24, 2020, was not enough to raise wages above the absolute poverty line, which, according to official figures, is a monthly income of JD 480 per Jordanian family (approx. $680).

Lost Rights

Aisha (alias), a teacher, receives a monthly salary of around JD 220, which equals the previously set minimum wage. Her salary has not changed since she began working in a private school in Irbid nine years ago. She receives no remuneration for the three months of the summer holiday. Aisha was afraid to complain until the school’s headmistress requested that the school deducts part of her salary as a contribution to the “sustainability program” that was launched by the Social Security Corporation to provide assistance to workers in institutions adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The teacher says: “The school’s owner demanded we pay JD 80 from our salary for the sustainability program, sometimes JD 50, to assist the school in light of the hardships caused by the pandemic. We were forced to comply to avoid losing our jobs.”

Aisha filed a complaint with the Jordanian Teachers Association which had launched an initiative in 2017 to raise awareness of teachers’ rights and address violations of labour rights and wages. She was able to receive her full salary without any deductions, but had to launch the same battle each subsequent month as the school’s demand for deductions persisted. With the looming risk of losing her job, Aisha eventually gave up saying: “I have decided to pay the school part of my sustainability allowance to avoid being sucked into a maelstrom of complaints or losing my job permanently.”

Labour attorney, Hazem Shakhatreh, says that the scarcity of complaints and labour lawsuits is a result of workers’ lack of awareness and fear of losing their jobs, in addition to overcrowded courtrooms. He adds, “the main obstacles facing the implementation of this law are the lack of logistical support and the ignorance of workers in their labour rights”.

Nariman Al Shawaheen, founding member of the Teachers Association initiative ‘Qum Lil Muallem’ (Stand for the Teacher) says that they continually receive complaints about employers’ lack of commitment to the payment of minimum wages and overtime remuneration. The initiative can only contact school administrations to try and settle conflicts with teachers amicably in order to avoid any consequent loss of jobs.

Al Shawaheen faces the same dilemma as her colleagues stating: “Our salaries are often paid in instalment increments and the school year may end without receiving my full salary. This is in addition to the fact that I am not paid during the summer holiday since (usually) my contract validity ends at the end of each school year and is renewed at the beginning of the following school year.”

Salaries by the Drip

Six years ago, Isra’ was forced to work in a beauty salon after she failed to find a job to suit her college degree in Business Administration. Over a period of five years, her salary stood fixed at JD 200, only to reach JD 230 at the beginning of her sixth year of work, still below the newly set minimum wage.

Isra’ does not even receive this meagre salary from her employer in full. “He pays me JD 50 and then another JD 50 at the beginning of the following month. Mid month the amount could reach JD 200, and the rest is paid in instalments increments of JD 5 or JD 10.”

From time to time, Isra’ is afflicted with bronchial infections and allergies, which are, according to doctors, a result of the harmful chemicals of beauty products that she frequently handles in her work. She is often forced to stay home sick for a week of unpaid leave yet has to return to work to pay for her living expenses.

The Minimum Enforcement of the Law

According to Mazen Maaytah, the director of the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, the minimum wages law does not apply to 80% of the Jordanian workforce, which clearly indicates a failure of implementation of the law, especially that the size of the Jordanian workforce is 1.6 million, which constitutes 27% of the overall population, according to the National Training Institute.

Section 53 of the Jordanian Labour Code stipulates that an employer who has paid a worker less than the minimum rate of remuneration or has discriminated against workers in remuneration for equal work based on gender shall be punishable by a fine of no less than five hundred and no more than one thousand Jordanian Dinars ($1400). The fine is doubled if the violation is repeated.

The Ministry of Labour, which is authorized to monitor the implementation of the law, and in an effort to encourage employer compliance, launched in 2006 what became known as the “Golden List” which includes the names of companies and institutions that comply with the law especially those pertaining to wages, working hours, overtime work, and the provision of suitable working conditions.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic proved the list irrelevant. From the start of the pandemic until the end of April, 2021, the Ministry of Labour referred 1914 complaints to the courts. According to the ministry’s report, the number of complaints related to wages exceeded 15 thousand. In addition, the number of labour complaints increased after the Ministry of Labour launched the e-platform “Himaya” (Protection) on its website, which had not been available before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Reports issued by the Department of Statistics in 2020 stand testament to the fickle control over the implementation of the law. The department says that the percentage of workers without any legal or social protection reached 48%. Those are employees in the “unregulated” private sector who do not have any form of protection and are not registered in the Social Security system, working in various economic and agricultural sectors like construction, restaurants, beauty salons and private schools.

In light of the low wages and the hesitance of workers to file complaints against employers violations, tens of thousands of workers are forced to work in difficult conditions that do not meet their basic rights or cover their basic needs.

Jehan Alkurdi
Jehan Alkurdi works for Radio Al- Balad and has produced and written several reports and articles. AL Kurdi also does voiceovers and proofreading and has a published book “The Shadows of papers”. She has two bachelor’s degrees, one in Arabic literature and one in Journalism.