3:13am , Tuesday 17th May 2022

How the Jordanian Government Failed Employees During the Pandemic Crisis?

5 April 2022

On June 1, 2021, Medien Al-Zubaidi found himself without a job when he received his notice of termination from the textile and spinning factory where he worked in Irbid, 90 kilometres away from the capital Amman. He believes that personal differences between him and his supervisor in the factory led to his dismissal, after his failure to raise the matter with the Chinese factory manager. He was denied the chance to complain as the company translator was not allowed to convey Al-Zubaidi’s grievance.

Subsequently, he filed an unfair dismissal complaint at the Ministry of Labor. A month later, the Ministry of Labor informed him that they discovered that he had signed the termination of services document though he was certain that he had not signed such a document.

In the meantime, the factory asked him to withdraw the complaint in order to reassign him in a different department, but the official at the Ministry of Labor requested that he remain in his position. To date, his complaint stands unresolved, and Al-Zubaidi has not returned to work. Currently, he has been receiving 150 Jordanian Dinars ($211 US dollars) as unemployment benefits from the Social Security Corporation. His basic salary used to be 255 Jordanian dinars or $360. Meanwhile production at the factory did not stop despite the Coronavirus crisis.

Al-Zubaidi’s case is similar to the cases of thousands of workers whose employment rights have been violated by the companies that hired them during the Corona crisis, even though the Jordanian government issued the ‘defense order’ that protects workers’ rights from arbitrary dismissals or termination of services. The orders also guarantee the right to collect salaries without delay or deductions due to time off. This comes as the Ministry of Labor has failed to protect these rights or to apprehend companies violating them.

We have documented 747 violations against workers in the private sector as per data collected from the Jordan Labor watch, with 406 cases, and 341 cases’ data collected from ‘Tamkeen Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights’.

The Pandemic Impacted Negatively Jordan’s Economy.

Jordan recorded its first Coronavirus infection on March 2, 2020 when a citizen returned from Italy. On March 15, 2020, former Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz suspended all flights to and from the Kingdom except for commercial freight until further notice. Educational institutions were also suspended for two weeks. Public events, religious ceremonies, tourism activities and all public gatherings were banned. Two days later, on March 17, Razzaz announced the enforcement of the ‘Defense Order’ to counter the economic effects of Corona and issued a set of orders to stop work in various sectors with a comprehensive and partial ban on individuals and institutions. Workers were not to be dismissed, and their salaries were not to be impacted by deductions. Moreover, aid programs and assistance to the negatively affected sectors were offered.

The Jordanian government issued an order to suspend work in all public institutions and departments for four weeks starting on March 18, 2020. Exceptions were made for some critical sectors. The provisions of Article (50) of the Jordanian Labor Law states that if the employer is forced to stop work temporarily for reasons beyond their control and is unable to pay, workers shall be entitled to receive a maximum ten days full pay in one year. This will be reduced to half their salaries if the stoppage period exceeds that, and this is capped at sixty days half salary pay per annum.

Data from the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that the Jordanian GDP shrank by 2% in 2020. Economy expert Musa Al-Saket explains that the Coronavirus crisis has made the bad economic situation in Jordan worse.

In 2020, Jordan’s GDP shrank by 2%

A Flourish chart

Source: World Bank:

According to data from the Jordanian Ministry of Finance, the deficit reached 2182.4 million Jordanian Dinars in 2020 (approximately $3078.18 millions) compared to 1058.4 million Dinars in 2019. In 2020, the value of local revenues decreased to 6238 million Dinars, compared to 6956.9 million Dinars in the previous year. In 2020, the total expenditure amounted to 9211.3 million Dinars compared to 8812.7 million Dinars in 2019.

In a statement issued on Labor Day, Jordan Labor Watch announced that during 2020 the Jordanian economy lost approximately 140,000 jobs due to the pandemic.

Analysis of data from the Jordanian Department of Statistics indicates that unemployment rates rose to 30.2% in 2020, which marks a 7% increase from the previous year.

Unemployment Rates Reach 30% by the end of 2020

A Flourish chart

Source: Department of Statistics, Jordan.

Aid Programs Offered to Negatively Impacted Institutions

Due to Coronavirus, the Central Bank of Jordan and the Social Security Corporation have activated several programs and grants to help individuals and the private sector. The Jordanian government issued defense orders to impose partial and comprehensive bans on certain sectors’ work and offered programs to institution and their employees in order to protect those critical sectors affected by the pandemic.

In April 2020, the Central Bank of Jordan decided to launch a financing program worth 500 million dinars, that is around $706 million, aimed at offering loans at affordable rates to sectors affected by the Coronavirus pandemic in order to help finance their operating expenses and working capital. Such loans could cover salaries payment and main operating costs to enable them to maintain their workflow and continue their activities at normal levels and to expand them. These loans are granted through commercial and Islamic banks.

The central bank also launched a program to support the economy with a capital of 1200 million Jordanian Dinars to finance all investment and operational costs of companies to increase the competitiveness of companies and enable them to expand their businesses and finance their operational activities with ease and at low cost.

Analysis of the data of the Economic and Social Council indicates that wholesale and retail projects benefited the most from the Central Bank grants at 35.3%, while 22.8 % of the fund were used for transformative and manufacturing industries. Contracting and engineering consultancies came next and used 6.8% of its total. Approximately 4929 projects benefited from the grant, with a value of 449.40 million Jordanian Dinars, that is around $634 million US dollars. A total of 84,570 workers also benefited from the grant during 2020.

In 2020, around 5000 projects benefited from the grant provided by the Central Bank of Jordan

Wholesale and retail merchants benefited the most from the grant using 35%A Flourish chart

Source: Jordan Economic and Social Council

The Central Bank of Jordan grants facilities to companies every year, but it increased the value of the facilities granted to medium-sized companies by 17% in 2020 while small companies received an increase of 7% over 2019.

Increase in the value of facilities granted to small and medium-sized companies in 2020

The value of facilities granted increased by 17% and 7% to medium-sized and small companies, respectivelyA Flourish chart

Source: The Central Bank of Jordan

Through Defense Orders (1), (9), (14), (15), (18) and (24), the Social Security Corporation provided a safety net to workers and organizations in the private sector with thirteen programs geared to help them on temporary basis at fixed rates. From March until May 2020, Defense Order No. (1) suspended several social security programs, including the application of old-age insurance “at the request of the institution” for those who work in the private sector while deductions for natural disabilities, natural death, maternity and unemployment insurance remittance continued. The required contributions was reduced from 21.75% to 5.25%, and this enabled defaulting institutions to pay their dues in installments by December 31, 2023. One million and 203000 citizens and 50000 institutions benefited from the application the suspension of old age insurance, as a result people and companies had 97 million dinars of cash flow available at their disposal.

Additionally, due to Defense Order (9) issued on April 16, 2020, the Social Security Corporation launched five programs to secure workers of all nationalities who were residing in Jordan, including two programs for private sector establishments and three for insured individuals.

Defense Order No. (14) issued on June 14, 2020 led to launching three safety net programs. This is in addition to amending some programs to keep pace with the orders, thus bringing the total to thirteen programs.A Flourish chart

فيما استفادت المنشآت العاملة في القطاع الخاص من 6 برامج مختلفة.A Flourish chart Click to view the detailsicon

Solidarity 1icon

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Support 1icon

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Economic Empowerment 1icon

The amended version of Economic Empowerment 1icon

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Sustainability

Wholesale Violations of Workers’ Rights

The aim of the programs and assistance provided by the government and the Central Bank of Jordan to the economic sectors was to enable these to continue their work without being impacted negatively by the pandemic. Despite this, these sectors did not comply with the defense orders, which stipulated that workers’ rights must not be violated and that corporations refrain from arbitrary dismissals and salary deductions.

The investigators documented 747 violations against workers in the private sector, 406 cases were highlighted by Jordan Labor Watch while 341 were revealed by Tamkeen Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights. Meanwhile, the Jordanian Ministry of Labor received 24,025 complaints against private sector institutions from the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis until July 8, 2021. The companies based at industrial zones have registered 3328 violations.

Analysis of this data from Tamkeen Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights indicates that within two days of the enforcement of the order to suspend work in institutions in Jordan, workers in the service sector were subjected to the highest number of violations with a total of 93 cases or 27%, which is due to employees shifts working hours. The private education sector came second with 65 violations or 19% of cases, followed by the manufacturing sector which came third with 63 violations. Occasional workers employed on a daily basis who earn their wage per days worked came in fourth place with 36 violations. This means that employers did not adhere to the decisions issued by the Jordanian government. According to data issued by the Tamkeen Association, 341 violations were recorded covering the governorates of Amman, Zarqa, Mafraq, Dhalil, Azraq, Jerash and Irbid.A Flourish chart

According to Jordan Labor Watch, 406 workers in the private sector were subjected to several violations between March 20, 2020 and April 2, 2020. The complaint about “not paying the salary for March 2020” ranked first with (32.3%), and “not paying salaries for the months prior to the Corona crisis” came in second place. This shows that employers took advantage of the Coronavirus crisis by curtailing the rights of workers previously, by deducting the dues of 20.7% of them and forcing them to resign.A Flourish chart

Noor Issa is a twenty-year-old university student who works in child care at a nursery. She filed a complaint when she was arbitrarily dismissed from her work in April 2021. She also asked to be compensated for the nursery’s failure to pay for her inclusion in the social security system for the previous four years of her employment and demanded that the nursery reimburse her owed overtime.

Nour had received 200 Dinars, that is $282, as a premium from the family of a nursery student. This accounted for her March salary, and Noor signed that she received her salary with the director’s approval. Noor asked for a leave by phone to go to the dentist, and the director agreed but dismissed Noor the next day under the pretext of her “absenteeism”.

Nour says, “The director of the kindergarten and her lawyer tried to persuade me to refrain from filing a complaint for my arbitrary dismissal and for their failure to enroll me in the social security program. They offered me a sum of money; otherwise, I would be accused of stealing 200 Dinars.” Noor explains that the director has committed several violations, such as not allowing annual or regular leaves and asking the cleaning lady to perform teacher’s tasks.

According to the head of the complaints department and the hotline at the Ministry of Labor, Imad Al-Da’ajeh, the ministry used to receive around eight to ten thousand complaints per year. The Coronavirus crisis increased violations against workers, bringing the number of complaints to 109304 since the beginning of the crisis until October 10, 2021. Thousands of complaints are related to wages payment failure, termination of services and arbitrary dismissals.

Industrial Cities Register the Highest Rate of Violations

Tamkeen Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights documented 3328 violation complaints filed against the industrial zones companies between March 18 and June 29, 2020. The analysis of this data shows that companies took advantage of the Coronavirus crisis and did not pay the salaries of approximately 65000 employees in 2020. Companies also deducted from workers’ salaries for the closure days as per the orders issued by the government. This is in addition to arbitrary dismissals.

Around 2800 workers in industrial zones did not receive their salaries during the Coronavirus crisis

Companies violated employees’ rights by deducting salaries and arbitrary dismissalsA Flourish chart

Source: Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights

The General Manager of the Golden Goal Company for manufacturing shoes, Khaldoun Al-Nadi, said that they terminated the contracts of more than half of their workers. He says, “This was the solution through which to deal with the hardship faced when to Sustainability program stopped. The workers’ salaries and social security expenses became a huge burden for the company, so it resorted to reducing the number of workers to overcome this crisis.”

Al-Nadi says that this occurred even though the company had obtained a loan for 42000 Jordanian Dinars without interest from the Central Bank of Jordan to cover its losses.

Many companies used the Coronavirus pandemic as a justification improve their financial position while reducing their payee’s exposure. An analysis of data from the Industrial Estates Corporation shows that the number of companies in the industrial zones increased in 2020 by twenty-one company, while the number of employees who lost their jobs reached 800 as compared to 2019.

According to data from the Industrial Estates Corporation, the volume of investment in 2020 increased by 60% compared to 2019, registering an increase of 34.2 million Dinars while107 new investment contracts were signed.

The Jordan Industrial Estates Corporation manages ten cities distributed as follows: Abdullah II Industrial City in Sahab; Al-Hussein Bin Abdullah II Industrial City in Karak; Al-Hassan City in Irbid; Al-Muwaqar Industrial City; Aqaba International City, Al-Mafraq Industrial City; Al-Salt Industrial City; Al-Tafila Industrial City; Madaba Industrial City; and the Jerash Industrial City Project.

Most Companies Profited During Covid Crisis

The investigators monitored the Amman Stock Exchange data and examined the financial reports of 161 companies that have disclosed their data for three consecutive years from 2018 to 2020. These are classified into 21 micro companies, 33 small companies, 52 medium-sized companies and 55 large companies.

The Amman Chamber of Industry classifies companies by their number of workers and the value of their sales. If a company has fewer than five workers and sales are less than 100000 Dinars or $141000 annual turn over, it is classified as a micro company. If it has fewer than twenty employees and sales are under one million Dinars, $1.41million, it is classified as a small company. If it employs fewer than a hundred employees and its sales are less than three million Dinars or $4.23 million, the company is classified as a medium-sized company.

Analyzing the data from the Amman Stock Exchange showed that 34 companies suffered losses over three years: Nine of these are classified as large companies while twenty-five are micro, small and medium-sized companies.

The Association of Banks in Jordan conducted a survey on small and medium-sized companies in Jordan whose total number is 155000 companies. The study was published by the Association of Banks in Jordan in 2016 and showed that 98.9% of Jordanian companies are classified as small and medium sized companies. Individual enterprises account for 86.7% of these, followed by general partnerships with 8.9%, then limited liability companies with 2.9%. The remaining companies constituted only 1.5%.

Yihya Al-Khalil is the financial director of Bella Pharmaceutical Industries, which specializes in dermatological drugs and cosmetics. He explained that his company “did not suspend its operation during the Coronavirus pandemic, but the demand from Arab markets decreased. The company kept making profit but at a reduced rate than in previous years.” At the same time, he admitted that the company obtained two loans worth two million dinars with a 2% interest rate from the Central Bank of Jordan to cover employees’ salaries and the purchase value of raw materials. The Central Bank canceled the interest rate and considered it part of the installments. The company also benefited from the suspension of the old-age insurance for around 85 of its employees.

Creative Ways of Pressuring Workers into Quitting

Companies may not arbitrarily fire workers for fear of penalties imposed by the Ministry of Labor, but they resort to various methods to pressure employees to quit. Lawyer Hatim Al-Khashman asserts that these methods include “increasing work pressure or transferring workers to other departments, which leads to exhaustion and the inability of the worker to perform his job. The companies also reduce wages, so workers are forced to quit of their own accord.”

This is what happened with Muhammad Azzam, a young man in his thirties. He was made to transfer his position in the company several times, in order to exert pressure on him until he finally found himself unemployed.

Azzam spent six and a half years working in the shipping department of a company specialized in the manufacturing of clothes in the Al-Hassan Industrial City in Irbid Governorate. In March 2020, he was suspended from work because of the decisions issued by the government. In May of the same year, the company informed him that he was not needed. Azzam recalls with a sigh of regret, “I went to the Ministry of Labor to file a complaint, and I returned to work on June 18, 2020. Since then, a series of harassment steps began.”

During the year, Azzam was transferred to more than one department, including loading, transportation and cleaning. He complained at the office of the Ministry of Labor again but was told that the company’s by-laws state the right of the manager or the employer to reassign employees in the department he deems appropriate. In the end, he signed the termination of his services on June 1, 2021.

Azzam’s salary from the company used to be 220 Dinars, that is $310 USD per month. He had to borrow 150 Dinars to secure his family’s needs and buy medicines for his father’s treatment. The Coronavirus crisis and his suspension from work resulted in his divorce, and he was soon indebt as he failed to meet the cost of his divorce settlement of 1800 Dinars or $2500. Later he managed to agree to pay the cost in installments of 68 Dinars or $96 per month to his divorcee.

Azzam says that the company he was working for was not affected by the Coronavirus pandemic since it never suspended it operations, however, “it withdrew the requests for manufacturing clothes from the Irbid branch, which is one of three branches the company owned. It turned out that the company was suffering losses and benefited from the social security programs to pay salaries,” he states.

The Complaints Platform ‘Himayah’

The Jordanian Ministry of Labor established ‘ Himayah’ or (protection) platform on April 12, 2020 to facilitate the electronic submission of complaints during the Coronavirus crisis.

The head of the complaints department and the hotline at the Ministry of Labor, Imad Al-Da’ajeh explains, “After receiving the complaint through the platform or through a phone call, the role of the Ministry is to transfer the matter to the inspector who verifies the claim by visiting the institution and reviewing its records. If the company is in violation of the laws, it receives a warning to rectify the matter. If it persists with the violation, a report would be filed against it, and the judiciary system takes over from there.”

Al-Da’ajeh explains that the last option the ministry resorts to is to issue a violation report because its goal is to return the worker to his job. There is no specific timeline set for resolving the complaint so that the ministry’s inspector could be motivated to make extra effort and pursue the matter. Al-Da’ajeh explains that the period during which the worker is suspended from work is usually paid.

The head of the complaints department justified the delay in resolving some complaints by listing some reasons such as “the closure of some organizations, the inability to communicate with the employer except by phone. Sometimes the complainant’s phone number might be incorrect, closed or disconnected. Add to this the volume of complaint cases filed at the ministry.”

The investigators obtained data from the Jordanian Ministry of Labor from the beginning of the pandemic until July 8, 2021, and it shows that 24025 complaints were filed against organizations, including 18618 institutions that delayed paying their workers’ wages. 6163 complaints were lodged against companies for “termination of services,” and 2632 violations were issued against organizations as per Defense Order (6), which states that workers should not be dismissed, have their rights violated, or their services terminated. The services of 9753 employees were terminated: Of those, 3487 were terminated legally while 6141 workers returned to work. The Ministry of Labor also issued 3264 violation reports and sent them to the judicial authorities to take legal action.

The head of the Workers’ House Center, Hamada Abu-Nijmah estimates that the number of complainants is much lower than those who actually experienced violations. He believes it is unfair to place the burden of filing a complaint for employment’s rights abuse on the worker alone, as this will pitch him against the employer and may lead to conflict resulting in the employee’s losing their job. In most cases, the worker files a complaint when dismissed from work.

The Law is Not Strictly Enforced

According to Defense Order (6), violators of any other provision of the defense order and the communiqués issued by the Prime Minister or the ministers in charge shall be punished by imprisonment between three months to three years. A fine of 3000 Jordanian Dinars, equivalent to $4230 will also be imposed.

Lawyer Al-Khashman believes that the Ministry of Labor could have played a greater role if it had enforced some defense orders, such as shutting down facilities as a deterrent to others. It could have also followed up on violations filed at courts and with the public prosecution more closely. Maximum instead of minimum penalties could have been applied as well.

Malik Al-Ma’aytah from the General Federation of Trade Unions in Jordan states that some companies benefited from social security programs but have not paid their required contributions. He adds, “The absence of legal oversight during the Coronavirus pandemic made employers violate workers’ rights, and this is unacceptable. We have to make a huge efforts to raise social awareness regarding this matter as such violations usually harm the entire community.”

According to Al-Ma’aytah, the union aspires to have an amendment to the regulations to speed up the procedures for recovering workers’ rights. The role of the competent authority, that is the Ministry of Labor in this case, should not be limited to issuing recommendations only. Inspection teams should be staffed better and should be empowered with additional supervisory roles, so that employees manage to preserve their jobs and rights, or employers are deterred from committing violations.

Meanwhile, Medien Al-Zubaidi is still waiting for someone to redress the harm committed against him right so that he could resume his employment four months after his dismissal, and Muhammad Azzam is waiting for a glimmer of hope to find a job that can help him live without resorting to anyone for help, and so that he does not accumulate more debts.