Amman— Jordan’s Ministry of Labour, the main apparel employer associations and the country’s garment union agreed to modifications to the unified contract for migrant workers in Jordan’s garment sector in Amman on Thursday (21 April), allowing the inclusion of Syrian refugees in the Kingdom’s workforce.
In the wake of February’s Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London, Jordan will create jobs for Syrian refugees in the country’s vetted qualified industrial zones. Following the opening of the EU market with simplified rules of origin, Jordan will benefit from new investments, which will also help boost local employment.
Two thousand fee-exempt work permits will be issued to Syrian refugees by Jordan’s Ministry of Labour, thanks to the cooperation of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Refugee Agency – UNHCR and local stakeholders. This will allow the new workforce to enter the thriving apparel sector, which accounts for 17 per cent of the country’s exports.
Dan Rees, Director of Better Work – a partnership between the ILO and the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation – explained that the challenge of employing both Jordanians and Syrians was a top priority for the government of Jordan and that the programme was ready to help.
“We are considering a series of strategies to create jobs for both Syrians and Jordanians and exploring how Better Work can be relevant in this discussion, given our experience that quality jobs attracts investment. We stand ready to help the expansion of the sector,” Rees said.
Appreciating the efforts from all parties, Abdallah al Jbour, Director of Labour Inspection at Jordan’s Ministry of Labour, admitted that this change required a big effort from Jordan’s garment industry. “We are trying to identify a number of Syrians interested in working in the sector and talking to the factories to issue the work permits,” he said.
Anna Gaunt, UNHCR’s Work Permits Project Manager, said that her agency was delighted to have reached a common agreement that takes into consideration the need to protect refugees and ensure that their labour rights will be respected. “I hope that we will be able to scale up this pilot project in the future, ” she added.
The ILO/Better Work brokered unified contract has proven to be a milestone in Jordan’s job market, tackling the problem of some migrant garment workers signing multiple contracts in their home country, and then signing different ones when they arrive in Jordan. The new contract also clearly breaks down details concerning their employment conditions and takes into account the Syrians’ refugee status.
Fathallah Al Omrani, President of the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Garment and Clothing Industries, said that in order to encourage business owners to employ Syrians, help must be provided to cover the transportation and training of the new workforce.
Dina Khayyat, President of the Jordan Garments, Accessories and Textiles Exporters’ Association (JGATE), said that this unified contract will be implemented in all factories and not only remain ‘on paper’.
“I would like to see the unified contract implemented in other sectors too. We look forward not only to 2,000 Syrian workers but many more, as well as more Jordanians joining the workforce,” Khayyat added.
Tracy Hart, the World Bank’s Senior Environmental Specialist, said that both her institution as well as its private sector investment arm, the International Finance Corporation, were pleasantly surprised at the speed at which this unified contract for Syrians has come together.
“This is a testimony to the close and productive partnership between the union, JGATE, government of Jordan representatives and the ILO,” she said.
Enjoying a free trade agreement with the United States, Jordan’s garment sector continues to thrive despite volatility in the region, with exports surging from $700 million in 2007 to over $1.5 billion in 2015. The sector employs approximately 40,000 migrant workers, the majority of whom originate from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India.