Migrant workers stuck in Jordan try to find justice in unity
Since the workers had joined the Jordan garment workers’ union when they arrived in the country, they were covered by a sector-wide collective bargaining agreement that included a grievance procedure clause.
The Al Hassan Workers Centre in Jordan is a safe space for the thousands of migrant garment factory workers who work in the surrounding industrial zone, some of whom may be vulnerable to abuse.
Set up in 2013 by the garment employers, the garment workers' union, the Jordanian government and the International Labour Organization, it offers a range of services including skills' training, legal advice, and mental health counseling.
For a group of 100 South Asian migrant workers who had come to work at a small garment factory in the industrial zone, the Workers' Centre was also the place that helped free them from modern slavery.
In violation of both the Jordanian law and international labor standards, their employer had confiscated their passports when they arrived and never obtained work and residence permits as required by the authorities.
It meant that these migrant workers were working illegally in the eyes of the law. When the authorities found out, fines were imposed of over two dollars per day. These had to be paid before any of them could work elsewhere or leave Jordan to return home. Stuck in this limbo and with growing debts, the migrant workers became increasingly desperate.
Access to justice
The ILO estimates that 150 million migrant workers worldwide are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by employers, recruiters and others and some end up in forced labor. Cultural differences, language barriers and lack of money make many feel they are second class citizens. Often laws and protections enjoyed by citizens do not extend to them.
Most abused migrant workers do not go to court because legal processes are often long and complicated. However, the Al Hassan Workers' Centre helped the South Asian migrant workers find an alternative route to justice.
Since the workers had joined the Jordan garment workers' union when they arrived in the country, they were covered by a sector-wide collective bargaining agreement that included a grievance procedure clause. Along with the union representative who was a staff member, the Workers' Centre played a leading role, representing the migrant workers, encouraging them to take advantage of their rights and of the collective bargaining agreement, as well as pushing the process until its conclusion.
Staff at the Centre also contacted the Ministry of Labour and the factory was eventually closed down. The workers did not have to pay the fines and they were given the option of either working at a different factory or returning home, free of charge. The government's anti-trafficking unit filed a legal case against the factory owner, accusing him of human trafficking. The case is still going through the courts.
"Effective grievance procedures can offer migrant workers an additional access route to justice and a quicker path to remedy. Redress can be especially speedy when a union representative, trusted and respected by both workers and management, represents workers in the process," explained Phillip Fishman, Senior Technical Advisor at the ILO's Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch.
"This is especially important because even in countries with the relevant laws and protections in place, legal processes are often lengthy and complicated. Many migrants fear that it will take years for their case to be heard in court and that they are unlikely to win. There are practical considerations too, such as how to find money for food and lodging while fighting a legal battle," he added.
A second Workers' Centre will open this year in another industrial zone in Jordan. The ILO is also looking into replicating this model in other countries.