Amman – Emad Sahour, 32, was shocked when he was fired from his job end 2010 on the eve of his wedding and after his salary was reduced many times to JD 130 — almost half of what he had started off with and JD 20 below the minimum wage level.
Wanas Hweitat does not receive the JD 150 minimum wage. He works in a car repair workshop in Wadi Rimmam area for JD20 a week.
Ahmad Amour, 27, works at a car repair workshop for JD 100 a month, without a written contract that specifies his rights and duties. He was shocked when an inspector from the Ministry of Labor showed up on site and asked about his wage only to be told by the owner that he receives JD 150 per month. “I was scared to lose my livelihood and did not dare open my mouth” as the boss would replace him with others who would accept a lower wage out of need.
Low wages are the result of the inefficiency of the inspection systems at the Ministry of Labor, and work owners exploiting the workers’ need, in addition to failure to document most work contracts and settling for verbal contracts. These factors deprive workers from participation in the Social Security Corporation, according to the conclusions of this investigation.
The Labor Association president, Mazen Al-Ma’aytah emphasizes that 80,000 workers in industrial establishments, or 6% of the total labor force estimated at 1,300,000 receive wages that are less than the minimum salary scale.
The Minister of Labor, Dr. Mahmoud Kafaween believes that setting a minimum wage level, away from the supply and demand equation, is detrimental to the Jordanian workers, distancing them from working in factories, where wages are restricted to JD150. Yet Kafaween emphasizes that the ministry will involve the private sector in setting the minimum level, which guarantees a balance between the two sides of the equation.
Attempts to be fair to workers failed despite the formation of a tripartite committee for labor affairs last year, in accordance with article 52 of the Labor Law of 2010.
This committee includes representatives of workers, work owners and the Ministry of Labor. Since its establishment, it has met once, on July 25, according to the president of the Construction and Building Association”, Mahmoud Al-Hiyari, a committee member. He blames the government for being responsible for this contentious problem, in the absence of a strategy, and constant change in ministers of labor.
The committee recommended in that meeting the formation of a technical committee from all concerned institutions (Finance and Industry, and Trade ministries, Central Bank, Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Industry, Social Security Commission, and the Ministry of Labor), to measure the impact of the high cost of living on labor wages.
Al-Hiyari sees that increasing minimum wage levels has become an urgent matter in light of the receding purchasing power of labor salaries. “Saving the lower and middle class labor represents at the end of the day a social measure from which work owners benefit, the economy emerges from its recession and consumption increases,” he adds.
In a questionnaire distributed to 200 workers in the Kingdom’s 12 governorate, this reporter found out that 71.4% of the sample (between 17 and 40 years of age) suffer from labor problems, including receiving less than minimum wage levels. They avoid submitting a labor complaint in order not to lose their source of livelihood.
The questionnaire shows that 48.2% of the sample members do not feel secure in their jobs. It also reveals that many prefer to work in opportunities available and at a rates offered to them, due to the limitations of available opportunities, and failure to activate inspection on implementing minimum wage levels. The questionnaire also found that 64% of workers are exploited, working more than the eight hours a day limit. They also lack the basic occupational health and safety conditions, in addition to being deprived of holidays. They do not get overtime payment for extra work.
A Livelihood Mirage
Migration from the countryside to the city is a “livelihood mirage”. This is what worker Zaki Mahmoud from the Abu Elsous area west of Amman believes. Mahmoud wishes that “the days of working on his three-dunum land return instead of sitting at home without work while my children look at me with pain and resentment.”
The pockets of this farmer searching for job security “are empty”. He has moved from one job to another because he receives less than the minimum wage. What exacerbates Mahmoud’s suffering, as well as other workers, is that work owners often replace them with “expatriate workers” who accept lower wages.
Karam Abul Ghait, 30, arrived four years ago from Egypt to work in Jordan. Although he now makes JD 140, Abul Ghait is happy to work, especially that his living expenses are much less than his Jordanian counterparts. He shares one room with a number of his expatriate friends.
Expatriate labor is estimated at 500,000 workers, according to official numbers.
The life of worker Mohammad Sukkar is not any better. He supports a family of 12, including his sick mother and children attending schools and universities.
Sukkar used to work as a car mechanic, receiving the minimum wage. When asking for an increase of his monthly wage, he lost his job.
Sukkar says: “My living condition is very harsh. I am in good health and can work, but where is work?”
Ibrahim Mahseiri works at a car mechanics garage and receives a monthly salary of JD 130. Mahseiri describes himself as “poor worker”, because he is incapable of providing the basics of life, let alone any luxuries.
Harbi Ibrahim, 25, works in a car body shop for JD 20 a week. He emphasizes that his boss maneuvers to implement the minimum wage requirement or to include him in social security. There is no written work contract that specifies his rights and duties. “I was ordered by my boss to tell the Ministry of Labor inspectors on their rounds that my monthly salary is JD 150”.
From his side, Masher’s “boss” justifies his behavior in that the wage system at his shop pays weekly wages based on his economic conditions, in order to balance his revenues and expenses. He emphasizes that the work system is connected to supply and demand.
Motivation to Accept Job Opportunities
Workers demand that the minimum wage level be increased, while others complain that work owners do not adhere to that. The most recent data from the Statistics Department show that the average per capita income is JD 1350, although average per capita expenditure is about JD 1504. This indicates a per capita annual deficit is JD 154.
Ahmad Rashid. 35, sees that maintaining minimum wage levels will increase need among a wide social class. The JD 150 is “hardly sufficient for transportation and a small portion of the worker’s personal needs”.
Taha Abdul Fattah and his colleague Nizar Oudeh believe that the minimum wage level “does not provide a respectable life for workers or motivate them to produce and accept job opportunities available to them.”
Electrician Osama Yousef calls upon the Ministry of Labor “to use its influence as a government agency to pressure work owners to raise the minimum wage level to JD 250 in response to the demand of the Labor Association.”
Ibrahim Al-Ana’ami and Hani Jamal say that raising minimum wage levels “is a legitimate demand not only to confront the cancellation of subsidy on fuel, but because the present approved minimum wage level is not sufficient for daily living requirements, especially that those who start work at these wages are mostly young people who need to establish a new social and family life.”
In return, work owners argue that raising wages may add to deficits of workshops and mechanical garages, some of which are stumbling financially as a result of the international financial crisis and high inflation rates at home. Inflation in Jordan for the first seven months of the year stood at 4.7%, according to the Department of Statistics.
Amer Farraj is the owner of a car repair garage. He employs four workers for a total of JD 500 a month. His garage’s monthly expenses are about JD150, while his total net monthly income, after deducting expenses is JD 400. He believes that raising the minimum wage would cause a wave of inflation, as a result of increasing repair expenses for his clients. Farraj calls for creating an inspection mechanism that compels the private sector to pay minimum wage levels.
Bassam Al-Manaseer, owner of a car repair garage in Jerash believes that the work owner finds himself caught in a catch twenty-two situation. He wishes to improve the worker’s standard of living and compensate him for inflation, but at the same time, he does not wish to increase the cost of work and influence his market competitiveness negatively.
Karam Al-Smadi, owner of a car repair garage agrees with him.
Although Al-Smadi agrees with workers and their demands, he also believes in the need for “incentives to guarantee the growth of the workshop.” He also emphasizes that raising minimum wage levels should be accompanied by a package of measures that would support the development of car repair shops.
On his part, Abdul Rahman Khair, an owner of a maintenance workshop for heavy equipment calls for increasing minimum wage levels based on a scientific study that identifies citizen needs and guarantees a proper standard of living. Khair warns that the continued increase in inflation rates threatens “social stability and peace.”
President of the General Union of Labor Associations, Mazen Al-Ma’aytah says that demanding an increase of the minimum wage levels to at least JD 250 “may not be welcomed by work owners, who will push in the direction of raising it between JD 5 to 10, as was the case in previous years.”
Al-Ma’aytah says that Jordanian workers look forward to the government taking their demands seriously, considering the wide economic and social gap impacting the Jordanian workers as a result of the increase in prices and economic inflation.
He reveals that 25% of industrial establishments “are committed to the minimum wage levels”, noting that about 80,000 workers receive wages that are less than the minimum wage level.
According to Al-Ma’aytah, companies and establishments in the private sector circumvent the decision used at present, calling on the Ministry of Labor to concentrate inspection and monitoring campaigns against these establishments.
In this context, the director of the Monitoring and Inspection Directorate at the Ministry of Labor, Adnan Rabab’ah diagnosed the problem at small workshops and mechanics garages and car repair shops. He points out that most workers in these establishments are connected with the work owner by verbal contracts, which forms a difficulty in guaranteeing the rights of the worker.
He emphasizes that the Ministry supervises 167,000 establishments, including car repair mechanics shops. In return, there are 125 inspectors who undertake monitoring and inspection in all the Kingdom’s governorates. This means one inspector for 1336 work establishments. The minimum level needed is 200 inspectors.
He points out that the worry of workers about submitting a complaint to the Ministry prevents them from obtaining the minimum wage level. The Ministry receives complaints from workers secretly, but in many cases, demanding the worker’s wages from the work owner reveal’s the complainant’s identity, especially that many of these establishments only employ one or two workers. He clarifies that the problem lies in small car repair workshops that are not subject to social security. Furthermore, the citation for violating the law does not represent a major deterrent, since it ranges between JD 50 and 200, according to Al-Rabab’ah.
He reveals that the Ministry of Labor will start, at the beginning of next year, to computerize inspection systems in order to facilitate the Directorate’s work, and to identify the locations of these establishments according to a special database that facilitates inspection trips to these establishments.
The Role of Social Security
The director of media at the Social Security Corporation, Mousa Al-Sbeihi complains that there are no official statistics showing the number of mechanic workshops and car repair. However, he expects that this sector will be regulated after it recently joined the Social Security. This means that employers are required to include his/her workers in Social Security regardless of their number. Al-Sbeihi emphasizes that the computer systems at the Corporation will not enter data of any worker whose salary is less than JD 150. He relates the problem to the fact that work owners compel workers to accept wages that are less than the limits stipulated by law, at a time when they claim that they receive wages according to the law. He points out that most workers in these workshops do not have documented job contracts, and that some of the contracts do not mention the worker’s real wage, especially when it is less than what is written in the contract.
According to the law, the corporation started to include anyone working in an establishment, even if the owner refused to do so, retroactively, starting from the date at which the worker joined the establishment. The Social Security Corporation employs 70 inspectors to look after 70,000 establishments included under its umbrella, according to Al-Sbeihi. He believes that this number is insufficient to guarantee the implementation of the Social Security Law.
This report was completed with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) under the supervision of Sa’ad Hattar.