Regional Desk Officer for the Arab Region at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Nezam Qahoush has recently stated that there is a “large file of complaints” against the Jordanian government concerning workers’ freedom of association. He expressed the UN agency’s “great concern” over the obstacles faced by workers based in the Kingdom when attempting to assemble.
The remarks came during a meeting held at the ILO headquarters in Geneva last week, where the official met with a delegation of the “INSAN” and “Ein” coalitions for human rights as part of the collaborative round to assess the content of the Universal Periodic Review report on human rights.
“While the working conditions in Jordan are fairly better than in many other countries across the Arab region, Jordanian workers are suffering from a lack of response to complaints related to freedom of association and trade union activity,” Qahoush said, noting the agency’s attempts to communicate with Jordanian officials in order to tackle the issue.
In a previous statement, the Jordan Labour Watch (JLW) called for modifications to Article 98 of the Labour Law which designates the professions and sectors in which workers are allowed to form unions, stressing that “the article’s text violates the freedom of association”.
The Constitution “recognises the right of workers to form trade unions and it does not tolerate any restrictions in its exercise as long as the objectives of the unions are legitimate and peaceful,” the statement noted.
On the ground, activists agree, all relevant rulings prevent workers from establishing unions freely, thus depriving them of their right to bargain in the event of a work dispute.
Qahoush added at the seminar that the “ILO Committee on Freedom of Association is currently preparing the list of countries in violation of basic rights”, the official continued, expressing hopes for “the day to include Jordan in these lists not to come”.
In this regard, the ILO pointed out that the Kingdom has not yet ratified the Convention No. 87 on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, which came into force in 1950 after being approved by the UN General Assembly in 1948.
In addition, the official expressed his shock at the make-up of the Jordanian official delegation at this year’s ILO conference, which included only one trade union representative as opposed to a total of five MPs and several Ministry of Labour officials.
The Ministry of Labour was not available to comment on the remarks, despite several attempts to contact officials there by The Jordan Times.
“Freedom of association is a basic right and not a luxury,” INSAN Coalition Coordinator Ahmad Awad told The Jordan Times, stressing the need to “enable workers to participate actively and genuinely in the protection of their interests, the development of fair labour policies and the social dialogue process”.
“There are no obstacles preventing the amendment of the Labour Law and the civil service by-law in this regard,” Awad continued, warning that “the real problem lies on the false assumptions of several policy makers that activating the role of trade unions would negatively affect investments and threaten the national security”.
“On the contrary, the absence of effective trade union organisations is the cause of the imbalances in society and the labour market, leading to the widespread labour violations among Jordanians and immigrants alike,” the expert added.
During the meeting, members of the delegation presented their main recommendations to Jordan’s Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights (UPR) report, foremost of which were the need to ratify ILO Convention No. 87 and amend the Labour Law to provide guarantees on the freedom to form trade unions.
In addition, representatives of the coalitions highlighted the “most serious” violations against workers, including reported arrests in cases of conflict with employers, compensation below the minimum wage stipulated by law and the pressure on migrant workers and refugees.
Responding to the recommendations, Qahoush said that “the ILO supports all efforts to defend workers and protect trade unions,” pointing out that the UN agency is “facing great challenges in Jordan concerning domestic employment”.
In addition, the official referred to an initiative presented by the chambers of industry and commerce in Amman aimed at building an economic and social dialogue with the ILO and other concerned parties, stressing that the agency will “support any initiatives in the absence of real actors on labour relations in the country.”