Pay discrimination

Giving private-sector teachers in Jordan a voice

A group of Jordanian teachers are making their voices heard to end gender-based pay discrimination and unfair working conditions in the private education sector through a community organizing campaign.

Article | Amman - Jordan | 07 October 2015
IRBID, Jordan (ILO News) – Suha1 once worked as a teacher at a private school in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid. She earned a mere 70 Jordanian dinars (about US$ 98) a month, well below the national minimum wage of 190 Jordanian dinars (about US$ 268). Moreover, over a two-year period, she said her employer pocketed the portion of her salary that was meant to go towards her social security contributions.

“I was told that my salary would be raised and I was told that I had social security. After some time, I found out that none of it was true. I was given all these false promises. I felt deceived,” she said at a meeting organized by the recently launched “Stand Up with Teachers” campaign, which aims to protect and promote the rights of private-sector school teachers. “I wanted to work but not under these conditions. When I finally resigned, I stayed home for a month crying.”

Suha described how she eventually moved to a different school, one which paid her more than the minimum wage and kept up-to-date with her social security contributions. Her experience spurred her to join Stand Up with Teachers in order to help other educators in private schools facing similar difficulties.

"Stand up with teachers"

The campaign, launched in April and run by teachers who themselves have faced violations and decided to act against them, works particularly to empower teachers to negotiate for fair remuneration and better working conditions.

“Through this campaign, we are allowing the voices of teachers to be heard,” said Lina Al Rifai, who was a private school teacher for over ten years and is now a key organizer with the campaign. “We would like to raise awareness among teachers about their rights in the workplace, and on the use of a collective or unified contract which is a vital step in ensuring the rights of teachers are met. We need teachers to understand what their rights are and what employers’ responsibilities are towards teachers.”

The campaign is calling on teachers and employers to sign the Collective Contract, drafted and agreed upon as a result of collective bargaining between the Union of Workers in Private Education and Owners of Private Schools Association in November 2014.

When enforced, the contract will help ensure that teachers are paid their monthly salaries during the summer holiday, granted annual leave and receive the minimum wage, among other rights.

The Collective Contract was drafted with the consensus of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour, and the Teachers Syndicate following lengthy negotiations. They are now responsible for monitoring its enforcement as of the current academic year.

The team behind the campaign

The Stand up with Teachers campaign is led by a core team which includes the head of the Women's Economic Empowerment Section, as well as inspectors from the Ministry of Labour, members of Jordan’s Teachers Syndicate, employees from the Social Security Corporation and civil society groups.

The campaign forms part of the work of the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE), which was created in 2011 with the support of the ILO, the Ministry of Labour and the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) to tackle the issue of pay discrimination in Jordan’s private schools.

Gender-based discrimination

“We decided to launch the community organizing campaign in the Irbid area based on the results of an in-depth study conducted on the private education sector,” said Reem Aslan, the ILO's Pay Equity Consultant in Jordan.

“The study found female teachers were receiving less than the minimum wage, especially in Irbid, where many women teachers were receiving about 90 Jordanian dinars (US$ 126). In order to have a strong impact, we wanted to select a governorate that hires a high number of female teachers and in Irbid; there are over 2,000 female teachers that work in private schools.”

The study found that the great majority of teaching roles within private schools - 88 per cent – were filled by women. The study also found the gender pay gap2 stood at 41.6 per cent in private schools, with an average monthly remuneration of 435 Jordanian Dinars (US$ 613) for men and 254 Jordanian Dinars (US$ 358) for women3.

Government inspectors

The Ministry of Labour, members of which are part of the campaign's core team, said it is taking this issue seriously, and as a result, has increased its inspection efforts with all private-sector schools, particularly in Irbid.

“All private schools should respect the rights of workers stipulated in the labour law,” said Hamada Abu Nijmeh, Secretary General of the Ministry of Labour. He added that within a recent six-week period, ministry inspectors visited 40 private schools and issued at least 57 penalties.

Although Jordan ratified the ILO Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100, 1951) in 1966 and the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111, 1958) in 1963, the provisions of these Conventions have not yet been articulated in Jordanian law.

Courage to act

“We always knew that teachers were facing injustice in terms of their wages and rights but we did not realize how grave the situation was,” said Farida Khress, who worked in education for over 30 years and is now helping to lead the campaign in Irbid.

She said teachers are often afraid of acting once they realize their rights are being compromised. “One of the main issues is fear amongst teachers. My message to all private school teachers is that you need to overcome your fears by uniting and fighting for your rights together,” she said. “You may have to sacrifice some things on the way but in the end, you will reach your goals and secure your rights.”

The campaign is being coached and supported by Ahel, a Jordanian organization that specializes in community organizing and campaign training. According to its co-director, Nisreen Haj Ahmed, the campaign has already achieved many milestones since it was launched, including gaining 3,000 followers on its Facebook page and a 200 per cent jump in the number of teachers who call a specialized Ministry of Labour helpline. More and more lawyers are also coming forward to represent teachers on a pro bono basis.

Employers' support

The Private School Owners Association expressed its support for the work of the National Committee for Pay Equity, and welcomed inclusive dialogue in order to improve teachers’ working conditions and the efficiency of private-sector education.

“By being very proactive, the Committee is playing a unique role in bringing together all parties in efforts to achieve a common goal,” said Munther Sourani, chair of the Private School Owners Association, and himself an owner of a private school in Amman.

While the Association is not officially a member of the National Committee, it has been supporting the Committee’s work through providing data and information on the challenges facing employers.

“The Association and the National Committee have a common goal, which is promoting Jordan’s development. We the employers as well as employees are a main pillar in advancing our national economy,” Sourani said.

The campaign will run through until April 2016, and based on the extent of its success, organizers hope it will be replicated in other parts of the country to reach out to as many private-sector school teachers as possible.

“If more teachers, especially women teachers, organize themselves and take collective action based on a set of values that guide them, then we will view that as a success,” said Haj Ahmed. “And if more teachers sign the unified contract that protects their rights then it is also a success.”

The campaign founders’ next step will be to lobby for the minimum wage to be increased to 300 Jordanian dinars (about US$ 423,) so it matches salaries of teachers working in state-run schools.

“Enough is enough. This injustice needs to end,” said Suha. “Salaries have not changed for years, the working conditions have not improved in years, our rights as working mothers are ignored, there are so many issues that need to change… and this campaign is a step in that direction.”

1 Not her real name.
2 The GPG refers to the difference between male and female average earnings expressed as a percentage of male earnings.
3 ILO, 2013. A study on the gender pay gap in the private education sector in Jordan.