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Better skills and more formal employment for Syrian refugees

A new ILO project supporting the objectives of the London Syria conference aims to build skills and formalize employment status among Syrian refugees in Jordan’s construction and agricultural sectors, and improve job prospects for Jordanians in local communities hosting the refugees.

Feature | 29 November 2016
AMMAN, Jordan – The ILO has begun implementing a new project in Jordan that is designed to help Syrian workers in the construction and agricultural sectors develop skills and obtain work permits.

Conceived to support the objectives of the Supporting Syria Conference held in London in February 2016, the UK-funded project will also help to improve job prospects for Jordanians in local communities hosting the refugees.

Entitled Supporting the strategic objectives of the London Syria Conference 2016, the project in cooperation with the government builds on the ILO’s existing work to ease labour market pressures caused by the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war in neighbouring Syria.

Boosting skills and work permit applications in the construction sector

In the construction sector, the ILO is also helping workers obtain occupational certificates and social security enrolment.

“After consultation with the Ministry of Labour and other stakeholders, we found that most Syrian workers in the construction sector are self-employed and are working without work permits due to the absence of employers willing to go through the effort and expense of applying for these permits,” said Maha Kattaa, ILO Coordinator for the Response to the Syrian Refugee crisis in Jordan.

“So in order to help these workers become formally employed, they need an entity other than an employer – such as an official employers’ organization – to facilitate their access to work permits.”

The ILO has, therefore, partnered with the National Employment and Training (NET) Company to provide short courses for Syrians and Jordanians in floor layering, painting, plastering, plumbing and interior decoration.

The courses help the refugees upgrade their professional expertise and obtain accredited skills certificates, which in turn enables them to enrol in Jordan’s social security scheme for the self-employed.

This combination of upgraded skills and social security protection increases their employability, and helps them to attract official organizations that can apply for work permits on their behalf and legalize their employment status.

For Jordanians who do not require work permits, the training upgrades their skills and improves their job prospects.

The training courses, which are currently being held in the cities of Amman, Irbid, Mafraq and Zarqa, culminate in a test conducted by the Jordan Centre of Accreditation and Quality Assurance.

NET trainer, Zyad Haymoor, said the one-month training course, which also includes a practical on-the-job module, covers areas that workers lack knowledge in, such as occupational health and safety issues, as well as designing architectural and technical plans.

“These workers are already well-experienced, yet we need to help them upgrade their skills and knowledge through training,” said Haymoor.

“The certification will help workers obtain recognition of their skills and facilitate their work permit application. This will ease some of the pressures faced by Syrian workers because they will become legally employed,” he added.

Syrian Mohammed Ahmad Al Malouli has advanced calligraphy skills, and he is currently working on decorating the interior of a mosque under construction in Amman.

He said that he enrolled in the ILO programme because he wants to be able to work freely in Jordan.

“The programme is giving me a chance to improve my skills and it will eventually help me get a work permit. This will allow me to become more financially independent. Life in Jordan is expensive and we can no longer rely on financial aid,” Al Malouli said.

To-date, around 1,000 workers have enrolled in the programme, 460 of whom have already passed the skills test. There are over 1,500 additional Syrian workers waiting to enrol in the programme.

The ILO plans to expand the programme to other governorates in Jordan.

Increasing work permit applications in the agricultural sector

As part of the project, the ILO, together with agricultural cooperatives and the Ministry of Labour, is working on a similar pilot programme targeting Syrian agricultural workers in northern Jordan.

In April, the government announced a grace period for Syrian refugees to apply for work permits and waived the application fees, as part of efforts to help Syrian refugees legalize their employment status. Yet the number of Syrians applying for permits in the agriculture sector was initially small.

“The ILO held discussions with Syrian refugee farmers and found that, despite government measures to ease the work permit process for Syrian workers, a dearth of employers willing and able to carry out the paperwork was the main reason for the slow take-up,” said Kattaa.

As a result, the Ministry of Labour, in consultation with the ILO, introduced a new model that includes de-linking the work permit application from specific employers in the agricultural sector, and allowing agricultural cooperatives to apply for Syrian refugee work permits.

The initiative includes providing clear instructions to local Ministry of Labour authorities to enable them to issue work permits in a timely manner to a greater number of Syrian workers. It also includes information campaigns within refugee communities on how to apply for work permits, as well as on their rights and entitlements under labour laws.

To-date over 9,000 Syrian agricultural workers have obtained work permits through the joint initiative.

Joint Business Ventures

Kattaa explained that a crucial part of the overall project involves setting up Joint Business Ventures (JBV) between Jordanians and Syrian refugees.

“The initiative will allow local Jordanian business owners to expand their outreach and for refugees to find markets in host communities,” she said.

"Helping match the skills of Jordanian and Syrian workers with labour market demands is crucial in achieving the outcomes of the London Conference."

Official figures put the total number of Syrians in Jordan at 1.3 million, with only around 655,000 of these officially registered as refugees. The Jordanian government, through the Compact it presented in London at the Supporting Syria Conference, has agreed to allow a specific number of Syrians into the labour market, in return for improved Jordanian access to the European market, soft loans, and increased foreign investment in the country.