Ansar Abu Fara
Amman, April 2016, (Al-Araby al-Jadeed):
After eleven years full of ups and downs as well as hopes and disappointments, Jordanian school teacher Inaam, 45, lost her source of livelihood when she dared to break the silence and demand her and her colleagues’ rights.
Inaam was sacked by the owner of the private school in October 2014. This set her on a journey to lobby for the rights of teachers like her. In the course of her campaign, she discovered many contractual violations affecting the rights of teachers.
For example, the owner of the school had for the past six years suspended her health insurance at the end of each academic year before renewing it at the start of the new year despite an agreement in place to retain her services.
Inaam did not have a copy of her contract. But when she did get a hold of it, she discovered that her monthly salary was set at the minimum wage (~$267) and that this was calculated as the basis of her social security, when she was being paid $375 a month.
Inaam is one of 11,700 teachers out of 40,000 teachers registered with the Ministry of Education whose insurance benefits were suspended in the summer of 2015. Her colleague Nariman al-Shawahin, 40, had faced the same issue for six consecutive years.
In the summer of 2013 and 2014 respectively, 12,400 and 12,830 teachers received the same treatment. 90% of those figures were women.
From bad to worse
Inaam’s other colleagues Ahlam, Hiba, Inas, Hanin, and Majida are faring even worse. Over the three months it took to conduct this investigation, we interviewed 20 teachers who were paid less than the minimum wage in Jordan of JD 190 ($267) and received social security benefits accordingly.
In many cases, teachers throughout their careers were registered with the Social Security on the basis of the minimum wage when their real wages were often many times more the minimum wage. Their demands for their situation to be rectified have often been met with absolute rejection in violation of their rights and their entitlements. Indeed, pensions in the future are calculated on the basis of the wage registered with the Social Security and the subscription period.
Inaam was being paid JD 265($373) a month until she was sacked. The owner of the school had included the figure of JD 190 as her monthly wage in the contract in breach of the Social Security Law that requires the real wage to be stated.
The school owner took all measures to cover his tracks. He paid the teacher her salary in cash rather than a bank transfer and asked her to sign two forms, one with the real wage and one with the JD 190 wage submitted to Social Security.
Hiba Abu Ghneim, another teacher who worked for six years at a private school was paid only JD 150 according to her bank statement. Yet she was registered with Social Security as receiving the minimum wage of JD 190 to be consistent with the law that requires the wage subject to a deduction not to be below the minimum wage. In other words, schools use the figure of JD 190 in Social Security paperwork in the event the real wages are lower to avoid legal accountability.
Data taken from the Social Security Corporation show that 11,909 insured personnel in private schools are registered on the basis of the minimum wage out of 40,000 insured workers. Around 11,290 of them are women, proving that thousands of schools are dealing with their female teachers on the basis of the minimum wage whether the real salaries are higher or lower.
Contracts of submission
Our investigations revealed another form of violation perpetrated by school administrations who were deducting Social Security subscriptions from the teachers’ salaries. A survey showed that 19% of teachers bear the full cost of the subscriptions. This is despite the fact that the Social Security law requires employers to pay 13.25% and employees 7%.
When confronted, the director of one of those schools admitted on record that the owner deducts full subscriptions from the teachers’ salaries. The trend of breach of rights is rife among many of these schools, made possible through these “contracts of submission”.
These were the findings of an investigation of 10 private schools, not subject to any classification, with a view to the working conditions of the (female) teachers. We met teachers who live on meagre wages that took them below the poverty rate JD 814 per year. Those women go to work at 6:30 in the morning to be on time for the students’ morning roll call, then work for long hours implementing a busy teaching schedule as well as admin tasks like selling books and uniforms, stacking warehouses, and preparing student files without additional pay.
The Social Security Corporation of Jordan admits it is helpless to control breaches of the law in schools, citing the lack of a binding legislative framework that would compel schools to employ teachers for the entirety of the year at wages not lower than the minimum wage and that would prevent school owners from suspending social security coverage for the teachers repeatedly.
Moussa al-Subaihi, an official spokesperson of the Corporation, told this reporter that there is no legislation that would prevent owners from suspending social security subscriptions. Regarding the unified contract circulated at the start of the 2015/2016 academic year, he said it is not binding and is subject to “creative” interpretations by owners seeking to circumvent it. This, he added, requires firmer measures, because school owners can now submit suspension forms at the end of the school year that the Social Security Corporation accepts without asking about the reasons or checking the teachers’ contracts.
In the event the Corporation receives a complaint regarding the failure of inclusion on the basis of the real wage, fines can be slapped on violating schools. The number of such complaints received by the Corporation in 2015 stood at 312, mostly focusing on this issue and mostly involving private schools.
This investigation also uncovered a loophole in Article 7 of the “Unified Standard Contract” which states: “The first party must transfer the wage of the second party after deducing legal dues to the agreed bank unless the second party wishes otherwise.” This exception makes the clause non-binding, thus allowing the school owner to exploit the teachers financially under the pretext that both parties agree to cash payment of salaries. This makes it easier for school owners to avoid accountability. According to our survey, almost 83% receive their salaries in cash while 17% only are paid through their bank accounts. The standard contract makes no mention of social security entitlements.
When we confronted the Ministry of Labour with these issues, the Director of Inspection and Monitoring Abdullah al-Jabour said that when complaints are filed by teachers regarding wages or irregularities are discovered by inspectors, a citation is issued to the owner of the school, who is also compelled to compensate teachers retroactively including wage differences and social security contributions.
Jabour said that teachers who continue working at the same school the following year are entitled to paid leave in the summer holiday, for which school owners must submit statements to Social Security or pay the due amount to teachers directly. The Ministry of Labour would verify their compensations in the event violations are found during the inspection or after receiving complaints, but the matter would otherwise fall under the responsibilities of the Social Security Corporation, he added.
The Ministry of Labour has never closed down a private school as a result of such violations. Instead, it warns schools to correct their course. Inspectors touring private schools starting two months ago recorded 105 violations and issued 69 warnings, mostly related to wages that fell below the minimum wage and failure to abide by the standard contract, according to a report obtained by this reporter from the Inspection and Control Directorate.
Upon confronting the Ministry of Education in Jordan with our findings, the Director of Private Education Qassem al-Khatib, said his department was closely following teachers’ employment contracts filed by schools to verify compliance between the post, qualifications and the number of classes allocated to each teacher. But he said his department had nothing to do with labour rights which he said fell under the jurisdiction of the labour ministry.
The same goes for the Ministry of Education. It said it does not interfere in financial issues related to private school teachers. Its inspection department merely follows up issues related to licenses, class capacity and quotas.
The Ministry of Education in 2015 approved a project for a classification system for private schools submitted to the Department of Legislation. The project would classify private schools according to categories that specify the maximum fee for students and the minimum wage for teachers. It has yet to be implemented.
For her part, Abir al-Akhras, head of the Private Education Committee at the Jordanian Teachers Association said she is in charge of referring teachers to the authorities when their rights are violated. She stressed that many school owners prevent their teachers from joining the association.
In turn, the head of the Owners of Private Schools Syndicate Munthir al-Sourani admitted to violations related to labour rights in private schools. He said failing to include teachers in social security coverage or suspending their subscriptions violated national laws. He called on the Social Security Corporation to stop accepting the suspension of teachers in the summer holidays.
The Syndicate, said Sourani, is working to provide guidance to school owners to urge them to fulfil the rights of their teachers to guarantee their good performance. But he said that most private schools ignore such guidance.
Amid this lax oversight and lack of coordination among the various authorities, the teachers live under a lot of pressure without finding anyone to guarantee their rights. Schools that avoid their responsibilities, meanwhile, suffer too, from lack of proper organisation and volatility in their workforce, losing experienced teachers and producing poor educational outcomes.
Getting a job as a teacher
This reporter went through the experience of finding a teacher job in five schools to shed light on hiring procedures and how much the rights of teachers are respected/or not.
In one school that responded to the employment request that I applied for, I met the director. We had a lengthy conversation. The director explained issues like wages and social security payments. But in the course of our discussion, he highlighted another violation of the
Unified Standard Contract”. Indeed, the owner of the school can pay JD 100-120 as a salary to the teacher, while registering her wage as the minimum wage of JD 190.
In other words, they pay JD 100 only while paying JD 14 in social security contribution, saving themselves from having to pay a higher salary to the teacher. This was documented on tape.
This was not the only private school treating teachers this way according to a survey of 63 teachers (there are 32,000 teachers working in 3,000 private schools across the kingdom) by this reporter. The survey included a number of questions designed to expose legal breaches committed by school owners, especially those related to contracts, wages, and social security.
The survey measured the proportion of teachers with formal contracts. It showed that 88.7 % of them had signed contracts with their schools, while 11.3% worked without contracts. However, 82.3% of those with contracts said they do not have a copy of the contract, as their employers refused to give them their copies.
It also showed that 56.5% of teachers signed Unified Standard Contracts while 43.5% did not. This showed that some schools still use their own contracts using clauses that protect owners’ rights without safeguarding the basic rights of the teachers. It also showed that 90.3% of teachers were covered by social security while the rest were not. The survey also showed that up to 48.8% of teachers were registered with social security on the basis of wages that are not their real wages.
These results corroborate the findings of our investigations on how school owners are breaking the Social Security Law. Thus we concluded that thousands of teachers are covered on the basis of only the minimum wage JD 190. representing 71% in the sample, and divided into two sections: One that receive the amount of JD 190 or much less, and one that receives higher than JD 200 but are registered on the basis of the minimum wage to reduce the amount of contributions paid by school owners.
The survey also showed that 43.8% of teachers have their social security suspended in the summer compared to 28.1% who do not while 28.1% did not know whether their social security is suspended or not. In other words, many teachers do not know their social security status until they are sacked, as happened to many of Inaam’s colleagues.
Confronting offending employers
On the other hand, we confronted school owners abusing the rights of teachers. We went to the administration of one school whose violations were well documented.
At the start of the meeting, the director admitted that the salaries of the teachers who filed complaints were higher than JD 250 a month while their social security forms noted the figure of the minimum wage JD 190.
When confronted with this based on the Social Security Law, the director claimed that social security coverage is based “on the basic salary only, and the rest is considered bonuses”. Noting that the salaries are negotiated between the director and the teachers upon signing the contract at the start of the school year, without including any additional bonuses for overtime work.
This school forced teachers to sign two contracts; a standard one and another that is based on the conditions of the employer and a punitive clause in the event teachers resign. At the same time, teachers were not given a copy of any contract, as admitted by the director.
Employers can easily suspend the social security rights of teachers by submitting a suspension form to Social Security without the knowledge of the teachers.
Thus many Jordanian teachers are working in exploitative conditions. Their future and dreams are manipulated by school directors. Meanwhile, they are waiting for the Ministries of Education and Labour as well as the Social Security Corporation to do them justice, at least by creating an electronic linkage among them to have the same information on the teachers available to all authorities and to pressure private schools to regularly update the data on their teachers to avoid abuse.
Some teachers like Alaa managed to break the silence. In 2015, she won a labour lawsuit against her school. Her salary was no more than JD 75, working under difficult conditions. She resisted pressures to resign after she took the initiative to protest her working conditions, resorting to the courts where she finally won. She obtained compensation worth JD 1100 as she was sacked arbitrarily. This has given hope to her colleagues to obtain their rights through the judiciary.
This investigation was completed with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) – www.arij.net