The Special Working Contract for Non-Jordanian Domestic Workers
This practice represents international cooperation between the labour authorities of countries of origin and the country of destination, working in close consultation with a UN agency and civil society, in order to develop a model work contract that safeguards the fundamental labour rights and working conditions of one of the most vulnerable group of workers, migrant women domestic workers.
Ensure the minimum standards of living and working conditions for migrant domestic workers through the provision of a standard working contract. Provide for the better protection of these workers by detailing the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees.
Activities, processes and steps involved:
In Jordan, migrant domestic workers, who are predominately women, confront a number of labour and human rights violations, including overwork, non-payment of wages, restrictions on mobility and communication, and physical and sexual abuse. These violations are widespread, partially due to the fact that Jordan, like many other Arab countries, excludes domestic workers (whether Jordanian or foreign) from the provisions of national labour laws. The Special Working Contract attempts to guarantee these workers certain rights through the establishment of one standard contract.
In 2001, the Ministry of Labour signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), agreeing to participate in the Empowering Women Migrant Workers in Asia programme and to initiate new regulations with the support and cooperation of UNIFEM. This programme covered Nepal, Indonesia, and the Philippines as origin countries and Jordan as a destination country.
Under the guidance of UNIFEM, the Ministries of Interior and Labour, the police department, Jordanian women¿s non-governmental organizations, and the Embassies of Sri Lanka and the Philippines formed a steering committee to negotiate the terms of the contract and other issues concerning migrant women. In 2003, the Jordanian government approved the Special Working Contract for Non-Jordanian Domestic Workers, making it the primary document governing the relationship between employer/sponsor, agent, and worker. The Special Working Contract contains a number of important provisions, relating to the responsibilities of employers and recruitment agents and the rights of migrant workers. These are:
- Every employer, agent, and housemaid must sign this contract and abide by its regulations.
- The contract lasts for 2 years, and can be extended by signing the annexed contract once the 2 years are completed.
- The employer and agency agree to pay for the worker: a roundtrip ticket, work and residency permits, and an agreed upon salary.
- The employer agrees to provide the worker with meals, clothing, accommodation, and medical care.
- The employer is NOT allowed to take the worker's passport.
- The employer cannot employ the worker to work anywhere except the employer's home.
- The employer must not place any restrictions on the worker's correspondences.
- The worker is allowed one rest day weekly.
It is in important to note that the contract only appears in English and Arabic. However, in 2006, the Ministry of Labour created a guide for migrant domestic workers translated into the languages of origin countries (Sinhalese, Tagalog, and Indonesian, as well as English and Arabic). The Ministry of Labour is now requiring all recruitment agencies to distribute the guide to newly-arrived migrant workers.
Migrant domestic workers in Jordan
The Special Working Contract was the result of consensus among the relevant stakeholders. A steering committee composed of representatives from Government agencies, women's organizations, UNIFEM, and the Embassies of Sri Lanka and the Philippines negotiated the provisions.
Relevant criteria for assessment
1. Respect for migrant worker rights:
The practice promotes the protection of and respect for migrant domestic workers' rights. It makes illegal the practice of retaining workers' passports and restricting their correspondence, as well as employing the worker outside the employer's home. Additionally, it requires the employer to provide the employee with a roundtrip ticket to/from Jordan and adequate accommodation, food, and medical; acquire the necessary work and residence permits; and pay the agreed upon salary.
The practice clearly addresses the protection gaps that migrant domestic workers face in Jordan. The contract includes provisions against the retention of workers' passports, employment outside of the employer's home, and requires that the worker receives one rest day per week, all of which respond to problems highlighted by migrant domestic workers in Jordan.
3. (Positive) Impact:
The Special Working Contract ensures a minimum of rights and working conditions for migrant domestic workers, whose employment is often considered informal and a private matter. It makes employers and recruitment agents liable for some of the most common violations, thus providing employees with a legal means to challenge abusive treatment.
4. Potential for replication and extension (adaptability):
The practice has a high potential for replication and extension and can serve as a model for other countries contemplating the introduction of a standard contract for migrant domestic workers.
The practice is the first of its kind in the Middle East region. It is a first step toward recognizing the value of domestic work and treating the relationship between the employer and the employee as one that can be governed by national regulations.
6. Broad-based and participatory:
The practice involved a range of stakeholders, including origin countries in the development process. However, the steering committee does not include the direct participation of migrant associations or migrant domestic workers themselves.
The Special Working Contract contributes to increasing the protection and rights of migrant domestic workers by making employers and recruitment agents liable for contract violations. The Ministry of Labour, in coordination with other relevant government agencies, is charged with following up on reports of violations made by individual workers and Embassies on the behalf of their nationals and with assisting in mediating disputes. It has also setup a hotline and email address for reporting on violations, with translation services available in several languages, including Indonesian, Sinhalese, Tagalog, Chinese, and Hindi, in addition to Arabic.
However, it is important to note that the contract remains silent on maximum work hours, overtime pay, right to privacy and freedom of mobility. The contract even stipulates that the worker asks permission to leave the employer's home. Moreover, the Special Working Contract is based on civil law, since domestic workers (whether foreign or national) are excluded from national labour laws, and thus contract violations do not carry the same level of consequences or penalties as would violations of the labour law.
These weaknesses in the law, coupled with poor enforcement mechanisms, have unfortunately proven to fail the needs of the domestic workers whom the Special Working Contract was intended to protect. Since the law's inception, multiple cases of abuses have arisen with little done to take exploitative employers or employment agencies to account. Reports from Human Rights Watch (2011) and the ILO (2013) have documented these issues extensively, thus suggesting that there remains much work to be done in order for the law to be improved and eventually live up to its intentions. As of 2013, Jordan remains the only country in the region with laws protecting domestic workers.
- Ministry of Labour, Special Working Contract for Non-Jordanian Domestic Workers (Amman, Jordan, 2003).
- Ministry of Labour, Guide for Women Migrant Domestic Workers in Jordan (UNIFEM: Amman, Jordan, 2006).
- Firas Ta¿amneh, Law and Practice on International Labour Migration: Jordan ¿ A Case Study, background paper presented during the ILO General Discussion on Migrant Workers, September 2003. (unpublished).
- Simel Esim and Monica Smith (eds.), Gender and Migration in the Arab World: The Case of Domestic Workers (Beirut, ILO, 2004),
- Tricked and Trapped: Human Trafficking in the Middle East