Promoting Decent Work in Jordan

Jordan’s economic growth has remained stagnant over the past decade, and the labour market has been characterized by elevated levels of unemployment. For the second quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate stood at 23.0 per cent, and at 28.6 per cent for women, and 42.2 per cent for youth aged 20-24 years. The labour market has also been characterized by persistently low levels of labour force participation (an average of 39.1 per cent, reaching 14.6 per cent among women), and a largely segmented labour market split along the lines of gender and migration status. The socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these characteristics of the Jordanian labour market.

The international community has acknowledged that Jordan provides an international public good by hosting the second largest percentage of refugees per capita in the world behind Lebanon. The Jordan Compact (2015) pledged to transform the challenges brought about by the refugee crisis into a ‘development opportunity.’ To do so, the international community pledged to support Jordan to provide easier access to EU markets in return for allowing refugees to access its labour market. 

The Government of Jordan launched the Jordan Response Plan for the Syria Crisis (JRP) 2018-2020 to consolidate efforts to respond to the impact of the Syria crisis on refugees and nationals. The JRP focuses on targeting vulnerable individuals irrespective of their nationality and support to build the capacity of government structures. 

Jordan has also developed a number of national strategies and policy frameworks including: Jordan Vision 2025; the Jordan Economic Growth Plan 2018-2022; the National Employment Strategy; the National Strategy for Human Resource Development (2019-2020); and the Employment Recovery Framework to support the Ministry of Labour’s Employment Stabilisation Plan.

The COVID-19 pandemic 

The impact of the pandemic and accompanying lockdown measures has exposed and exacerbated existing labour market weaknesses. Small enterprises, those operating in the informal economy, and the sectors most impacted by the economic shut down, such as tourism, retail, and manufacturing are particularly at risk.

Vulnerable workers - both Jordanians and refugees - have been particularly badly impacted. Daily or seasonal workers such as those employed in agriculture and construction, and refugees living in camps or amongst host communities have lost jobs and these workers are not usually covered by social security or other safety nets.

These factors are likely to combine and have several impacts on the labour market. Underemployment is expected to increase significantly as the economic/social shutdown translates into reductions in working hours and wages. Working poverty is expected to increase significantly, as employment conditions deteriorate and incomes decrease. Changes in the employment status/situation of workers will directly affect their incomes. Some sectors of the population can be disproportionately affected, thereby increasing inequalities. These include women who are more likely to have care responsibilities and the closure of schools and childcare facilities impeding their ability to return to work or facing a double burden of family and work responsibilities; youth who are entering the labour market in the expectation of finding jobs, in addition to migrant workers and other refugee and displaced populations who, even prior to this crisis, have been subject to discrimination, unequal treatment and poor working and employment conditions, compared with their national counterparts.

The Central Bank of Jordan announced a number of measures to cushion the impact of COVID 19 on the national economy and on businesses. Jordan is also one of the few countries in the region with a contributory unemployment insurance system in place and the government has acted to extend social protection to previously uncovered categories of workers. To complement these immediate relief measures, the Ministry of Labour has also formulated an Employment Recovery Strategy which outlines four areas for longer term recovery from the crisis. The four pillars are employment intensive public works which provide decent work and contribute to the development and maintenance of community assets, skills development for people to retrain for new sectors or move from education to training before entering the labour market, managing migration so that the economy can benefit from the skills of those returning to Jordan and those that are leaving do so with proper protection, and expanding social protection through an emergency unemployment and employment stabilisation fund with a view to achieving universal coverage including informal workers, migrant workers and workers in non-traditional forms of work who are falling outside formal social insurance mechanisms, and using the Maternity Insurance Fund reserves to help subsidise childcare costs for working parents, support employers in upgrading childcare facilities to conform with covid 19 health and safety requirements, and extending paid leave to those with unpaid care responsibilities.

The ILO in Jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan became a member of the ILO in 1956, ten years after gaining independence. Jordan has ratified 26 ILO Conventions, including seven of the eight Fundamental conventions. The Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) has yet to be ratified. In 2018, the GOJ, social partners, and the ILO agreed on a new Decent Work Country Programme (2018-22), which focuses on three priority areas:
  • Job creation for social cohesion;
  • Decent working conditions for all to support fair access to the labour market; and
  • Capacity building of social partners. 
The Jordan Decent Work Country Programme has the largest programme portfolio in the Arab States with a total of 26 active projects.

A large part of ILO’s support to Jordan falls under the Programme of Support to the Crisis Response.

The ILO Programme of Support to the Jordan Compact (POS) matches the DWCP priorities, as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Framework (UNSDF) 2018-2022 commitments to support economic growth, job creation and quality service delivery in Jordan. The ILO has been working hand-in-hand with host countries and development partners to support efforts to increase economic opportunities and employment creation in the region – for both refugees and host communities – through promoting an employment-rich national response to the refugee crisis, embedded in the principles of decent work.

Skills Development 

ILO has also provided technical support to the National Technical & Vocational Skills Development Commission (TVSDC). Interventions include re-engineering all major processes related to the TVSDC’s work, especially related to licensing, accreditation, testing and certification. The ILO is also supporting the commission in automating core services to enhance efficiency and transparency. Together with the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD), the ILO is supporting the setup of a Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) Directorate at the commission through engineering work processes needed for the operationalization and sustainability of the councils.  

The ILO supported the establishment of SSCs in the garment & leather and chemicals & cosmetics sectors in collaboration with the Jordan Chamber of Industry (JCI) and the TVSDC. The work included carrying out survey-based skills anticipation studies using the ILO's Skills for Trade & Economic Diversification (STED) methodology. This is in addition to providing support for developing demand-driven competency standards for priority occupations identified by the sectors. Additionally, the ILO is developing an online platform for all SSCs in the country to facilitate knowledge-sharing and access to resources and technical support for stakeholders in the TVET sector.  

ILO and UNICEF developed a Competency-Based Training (CBT) Manual for the Arab States. The document guides TVET developers, administrators, and instructors on the design, delivery, and assessment of competency-based training (CBT) programmes. As for law reform, the ILO and Al Hussein Technical University (HTU) are developing a proposed National Framework for Quality Apprenticeships (NFQA) that acts as a flexible management tool for training providers and employers to set up apprenticeship programmes.

Employment Intensive Approach to Infrastructure

The ILO partners with the Ministry of Public Work and Housing, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Local Administration (MoLA) to construct, rehabilitate and maintain public assets and expand agriculture in arid areas, with a labour intensive approach.

Since 2016, these projects have created more than 800,000 minumum wage and above workdays for over 17,000 Jordanians and Syrian refugees, and helped get more than 200,000 work permits issued for employment intensive works for public infrastructure and agriculture. The programmes have reached an average of 25 per cent participation of women in employment intensive programmes including in unconventional jobs in construction, and 3 per cent of persons with disabilities.

Sectoral approach to compliance

The Better Work Jordan programme  has been active since 2008, observing and supporting the growth of the garment sector export over these 10 years at a rate between 5 and 10 per cent annually alongside consistent improvements in Decent Work principles. Participation of garment factories in the programme is mandatory when they export to the US. Workers-management committees prioritise areas for improvement at factory level, and a Collective Bargaining Agreement and a standard contract template shape the employment conditions for the sector. A transparency portal also allows buyers to prioritise compliant factories. This approach has now expanded beyond the garment sector, into chemical, engineering and plastics factories under the Jordan-EU relaxed Rule of Origin trade scheme.

The inception phase to the four year multi-agency Prospects partnership also focused on enhancing decent work in the agriculture sector, where a large number of vulnerable Jordanians, refugees and migrant workers are employed. Based on the Better Work Jordan model, the inception phase developed a checklist to monitor and enhance working conditions on farms that also benefit from technical support for productivity and exports. This included support to enhance farm workers’ accommodation, the adaptation of accredited skills training for the sector, the establishment of agriculture specific employment service centers inside agriculture cooperatives, the establishment of non-formal education centres on farms- to provide an alternative for the children of agriculture workers who are living on farms and at greater risk of child labour.

The GOJ and social partners have also agreed to negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement in the construction sector, which will also be supported by a project focusing on skills, including lifelong learning.

Migrant workers

Apart from Better Work Jordan, several projects also support migrant workers in the country. For one, the Work in Freedom (WIF) Programme which supports a Workers Centre in Al Hassan industrial zone that provides legal aid, medical support and entertainment for migrant workers. Another project has piloted a corridor approach between Nepal and Jordan where all phases of the migration experience—from recruitment to Jordan and return to countries of origin—comply with decent work principles. 

Under the FAIRWAY Project, the ILO works with the Domestic Workers’ Department to standardize complaints and handling procedures, as well as prevent disputes through information sharing. The ILO also works to promote positive attitudes to domestic workers among employers and the general public through the My Fair Home campaign. Both WIF and FAIRWAY work with the Ministry of Labour on policy changes related to domestic workers.

In the context of Covid-19, migrant workers were disproportionately affected by the travel restrictions and mobility restrictions during the lockdown especially for those who reside in the employer provided dormitories. Better Work Jordan facilitated the agreement between employers and the TU in the garment sector that mandates employers to make travel arrangements allowing migrant workers to travel back to their home countries. The Workers’ Centre has provided regular mediation between workers, employers and government especially in light of covid-19. This includes providing updated information on the situation of migrant workers affected by the lockdown and loss of jobs, working with the Social Security Corporation to facilitate more than 500 workers to register with them and also ensure workers receive their dues before leaving the country, providing legal assistance, and facilitating workers in completing departure formalities including subsidised PCR tests to workers returning to their home countries. The Centre also regularly interacts with police and prison authorities, and embassies to solve issues faced by migrant workers.

Child labour

The 2016 National Survey on Child Labour estimates that there are close to 70,000 child labourers in the country. With the support of the ILO, the GOJ has put in place a National Framework on Child Labour, and has established an online referral platform for the Ministries of Labour, Education, and Social Affairs. The system was upgraded to include more actors from the civil society and 1,200 children are now registered. The ILO also pilots several direct services in urban areas and in agriculture to combat child labour.  In 2020 33 per cent (228 boys and 239 girls) of identified children working in agriculture sectors were removed from child labour and re-enrolled in school.

The ILO has also developed a toolkit on occupational hazards and risks to children working in agriculture along with guidelines on how to remove children from work. This is complemented with a light work list which identifies specific types of work within the agriculture sector that are considered safe for children between the age of 16-18 years to perform according to ILO’s definition of light work under ILO Convention No.138 on Minimum Age.

Gender Equality & Non-discrimination 

The education and health sectors are the main employers of women in the country. The ILO supported the national “Stand up with Teachers Campaign” for private school teachers, which resulted in the development of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that provides wage protection for teachers through mandatory digital wage transfers. The measure is now part of the Regulation of Registration and Licencing of Private and International Schools where the accreditation of private schools is only granted when a proof of digital wage transfer is provided.
In Jordan, and as in every economic crisis, women are at greater risk of job loss or wage cuts. The ILO, with the National Committee for Pay Equity (NCPE), monitored the use of e-wallets during the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently advocating for new legislation that will ensure that all women are paid digitally regardless of the sector that employs them. According to a study conducted in late March 2020, 57 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men were not able to establish an e-wallet account which made it harder for workers to receive their wages during lockdown. The summary report can be found here

During COVID-19, the ILO with the “Stand up Teachers Campaign” created a complaints mechanism in collaboration with the member organizations of the NCPE, including the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Education, the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW), and the Central Bank of Jordan.

In addition, the ILO, with its social partners supported a revision of labour law articles that were published in the Official Gazette in May 2019. These revisions include provisions for pay equity, paternity leave, flexi-time working modalities and child day care centres. Further work is currently being planned with the National Committee for Pay Equity to include articles relative protection from violence and harassment in the world of work, increasing maternity leave period from 70 days to 90 days, and removing restrictions to women's work in certain sectors and at night.

Several years ago, the ILO worked with the Social Security Corporation to establish the Maternity Insurance Fund which allows for social insurance to cover maternity benefits, removing the obligation from any individual employer. In late 2019, the ILO worked closely with Social Security Corporation and SADAQA in amending the social security law article relative maternity insurance fund (Article 42) to allow the Maternity Insurance Fund to also subsidise cover of child care costs. The amended law was followed by issuing a new Regulation in October 2020, which allows the fund to provide subsidies for working mothers ranging from JD 40-60 (USD 56- 84) per month and refurbish child day-care centres in less served areas, benefiting an estimated 28,500 families.

The ILO supported a number of women to give voice to some of the struggles they have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, through a dedicated social media campaign highlighting the prevalence and impact of violence and harassment in the world of work. The ILO is currently working with stakeholders on developing a national roadmap to prevent and address violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work. 

In the garments sector, the ILO raised awareness on Convention 190 on Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, and supported employers and workers to renew the sector-wide Collective Bargaining Agreement incorporating clauses on the elimination of violence, harassment and discrimination at work. The Collective Bargaining Agreement also prohibits employers from requiring women job seekers to present negative pregnancy tests before being recruited. Work is now underway to raise awareness of violence and harassment in the garments sector and the development of a referral system in line with the draft roadmap on C190.

Labour Inspection

The Ministry of Labour and the ILO have agreed on a comprehensive reform of labour inspection centred around the principle of strategic compliance  and e-inspection as well as capacity building of labour inspectors to allow for self-inspection and improved accountability. This reform will also provide a sector focus, specifically in agriculture, construction and domestic work. At the same time, gender and child labour related issues are prioritised.

Between August 2018 and September 2020, 25 labour inspectors have joined the secondment programme to Better Work Jordan, enhancing their knowledge on international labour standards and a holistic approach to improve workplace compliance.

Social Protection

The ILO has partnered with the Social Security Corporation (SSC) on a range of interventions to target and enhance the provision of benefits, while at the same time strengthening the financial sustainability of the SSC. The ongoing partnership was renewed in 2020 by the signing a framework for cooperation, which will include conducting an actuarial assessment in 2021, the operationalization of an emergency unemployment fund (EUESF), enhanced mechanisms for targeting and coordinating the provision of social assistance and social insurance programmes, and work on targeted communication and outreach. In particular, the ILO’s analytical work has focused on generating evidence and policy options for the extension of social security coverage to unregistered workers in the informal economy, with a special focus on agriculture workers, own-account workers, migrant and refugees’ workers, and female workers. As part of the 2021 actuarial assessment, the ILO will support the SSC to assess maternity protection schemes and develop reform options to enhance its coverage and impact.

The ILO will also support SSC to explore avenues to extend social insurance coverage in the context of the Future of Work, and the implementation of the regulations for the extension of coverage to flexible and part time workers. With the extension of coverage, the ILO and SSC are also working to adapt existing communication and outreach mechanisms to reach new and potential members, and their employers, with information on social security rights and entitlements, and support to contribute to and benefit from them.

Capacity building of social partners

The ILO has been building the capacity of the Jordan Chamber of Industry (JCI) and the General Federation of Jordan Trade Unions (GFJTU) to improve services to their members and to contribute to the policy debate. The JCI has established export facilitation services and can now serve as a Secretariat for Sector Skills Councils which undertakes skills anticipation surveys, among other activities. The GFJTU provides flexible work permits to Syrian refugees in the construction sector, has raised the awareness of refugees on their legal rights and entitlements, and commenced a job placement service as part of an apprenticeship programme.

The ILO also supported the capacity building of the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Garment & Clothing Industry in representing the voices of all workers in the garment sector including migrant and women workers. During the negotiation of the fourth sector-wide collective agreement, the Union conducted inclusive consultation workshops with workers, especially migrant workers for the first time, providing translation services in migrant worker’s native languages.