13th Annual Multi-stakeholders’ Forum: Improved working conditions advance garment industry and attract more Jordanian workers

29 Dec 2021

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]AMMAN, Improved working conditions in the garment industry will enhance its growth and attract more Jordanian workers, 13th Annual Multi-stakeholders’ Forum, hosted jointly by Better Work Jordan (BWJ) and the Jordan Garments, Accessories and Textiles Exporters’ Association (JGATE), has agreed.

At the forum, industry leaders discussed key achievements, such as drastically reduced forced labour, as well as continuing challenges, including unemployment and unregulated overtime.

Participants examined a National Garment Sector Strategy aimed at improving the business environment as well as institutional capacity. After a 15 per cent drop in orders in 2020, the Jordanian garment sector has rebounded and is projected to reach 2 billion USD in exports this year.  With this in mind, stakeholders from government, employers and workers’ organisations discussed the potential growth of the sector, and the effort to improve workers’ access to healthy living and working conditions, including improved dormitories for migrant workers.

The forum highlighted the importance of enhancing worker voices in the sector as well as effective worker representation and engagement in the labour market.

Jordan’s garment sector employs roughly 65,000 workers, the majority of whom are women and migrants from South-Asia. The Jordanian share of the labour force in the industry is around 24-25 per cent.

Garment sector growth

The garment industry has seen significant growth in the past 15 years, driven by large factories exporting to the US under the US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, which was signed in 2000 and went into full effect in 2010. Encouraged by the agreement, garment companies constructed factories in industrial parks, producing clothes for some of the world’s most popular brands.

“Growth in the garment sector has been good for Jordan, and good for Jordanians. The garment industry is a source of foreign currency and employs tens of thousands of workers,” US Ambassador to Jordan, Henry T. Wooster, told the forum. “Garment sector growth has also improved workers’ welfare and safety. US buyers and Jordanian manufacturers implement international standards.  They have cooperated with the Ministry of Labour to improve working conditions, with technical assistance from the International Labour Organization, Better Work Jordan, and the US Department of Labor.”

“The garment industry is one of the highest value-added sectors. The added value generated by sector production activities has doubled, reaching more than JOD 600 million and contributing about 2 per cent of the gross domestic product,” said Ihab Qadri, representative of the leather industry and knitting sector at the Jordan Chamber of Industry (JCI). “The garment industry is of the quickest growing industries, and capable of expanding their investments. Thirty satellite factories opened in the less fortunate areas in the last decade, providing about 8,000 job opportunities for Jordanians.”

The Jordanian government incentivises satellite factories in an effort to bring jobs to rural areas where many Jordanians live but where there are limited employment opportunities, especially for women. Satellite units are typically affiliated with large exporting factories and help those factories reach their quota of Jordanian workers, in addition to various monetary and logistical benefits.

“The garment sector is a priority for the Jordanian government,” Yasmin Khreisat, head of the Directorate of Industrial Development at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Supply. “The government seeks to enhance networking with local industries, industrial relations, and linkages between small-to-medium sized factories and the larger factories, in order to increase purchasing orders in the garments sector.”

Despite COVID-19 global and local impacts, industry exports in 2021 were valued at JOD 1.4 billion (USD 1.9 billion), Khreisat added.

“COVID-19 repercussions have created exceptional circumstances for workers and employers, and increased unemployment in Jordan,” said Minister of Labour, Nayef Stetieh. “The government and its partners are trying to address these challenges and find opportunities to support workers and employers.”

Nevertheless, the sector has proved relatively resilient. Compared to other garment industries, which saw major contractions of 30 to 50 per cent, Jordan has been spared the worst effects of the pandemic and resulting economic downturn with only a 15 per cent reduction in garment exports in 2020.

“The huge resilience that the garment industry has shown today, and especially during the worldwide health crisis, has been a result of the collective efforts of the industry partners as well as the government of Jordan,” said Sanal Kumar, chairman and managing director of Classic Fashion Apparel Industry and JGATE board member.

A national strategy

BWJ and stakeholders are developing and implementing a priority-based strategy for the next ten years to achieve independence, inclusive growth, and widespread benefits of the garment industry.

The strategy is centred on two main objectives: developing Jordanian human capital, and improving aspects of the business environment.

Qadri urged decision makers to support the strategy, saying the JCI “is committed to implementing and monitoring strategy goals and requirements, and to submitting periodic reports on its implementation and on any impediments.”

The national plan of action envisions building a Jordanian garment industry comprised primarily of more than 50 per cent of Jordanian workers.

“Factories are putting efforts in increasing the Jordanian employment rate,” said Ali Imran, owner of Hi-Tech Apparel Industry and JGATE vice chairman. “Currently the focus is to find ways to create more middle-management jobs through enhancing the national garment curriculum in universities. There are great opportunities in creating middle management positions for Jordanians, and this is the factor that the factories should focus on.”

Improved working conditions

BWJ brings together stakeholders from all levels of the global garment manufacturing industry to improve working conditions, enhance respect for labour rights, and boost competitiveness.

“Looking back on 13 years of cooperation, there is much progress to celebrate,” said Director of Better Work Global, Dan Rees. “In particular, dramatic progress has been made on eliminating forced labour. Once widespread in the industry with practices such as dormitory curfews, the industry is now largely free from forced labour.”

Rees talked about other key achievements in the sector, like “improved health and safety working conditions, maintaining sound industrial relations through collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) signed between employers’ organizations and the trade union (the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Garment and Clothing Industries); and building a robust partnership with the Ministry of Labour”.

He called for “ensuring that excessive overtime hours are eliminated, especially in high-demand season, and for enhancing enabling environment for freedom of association in Jordan”.

BWJ looks at forced labour from four angles: coercion, forced labour and overtime, bonded labour, and prison labour. Over the last ten years, the Jordanian garment industry has greatly reduced the number and severity of cases of forced labour. In 2016, the US Department of Labor removed garment products produced in Jordan from the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (TVPRA).

For Michelle Tarry, representative of American Eagle Outfitters (AEO), “mental health remains to be a key challenge”. She said BWJ’s partnership with JGATE on enhancing the structural integrity of worker  dormitories “is a promising indicator that will lead to the improvements in the living conditions for migrant workers and ensuring their safety”.

Over the last several years, worker mental health has become a prominent issue in the garment sector that the programme and its partners are addressing through BWJ Mental Health Project, launched in early 2021, including a Mental Health Policy in the Workspace.

Participants emphasised the need for addressing violence and harassment in the work of work.

“To grab the potential of increased exports to the United States, Jordan’s garment sector must address sexual harassment, living conditions in dorms, and wage and social security parity for migrant workers so your sector meets the highest global labor and quality standards,” Wooster said.

Strengthening worker voice

The Ministry of Labour says its role includes “broadening the scope of communication with workers and encouraging them to reach out to the ministry, regardless of their nationalities.” “Communication with workers and employers has improved,” said Haitham Al Najdawi, head of Ministry of Labour Inspection Directorate. “(Jordanian) workers can connect with the ministry and file their complaints … migrant workers have access to an online platform, which is now available in nine different languages, to file complaints in an anonymous way.” According to Najdawi, “the filed complaints are constantly decreasing and there are extensive inspections being carried out, in order to ensure a reduction in the turnover and as well as a healthy and safe working environment”.

Better Work Jordan Programme Manager, Tareq Abu Qaoud, presented insights on progress in the Jordanian garment industry through collaborative initiatives with national partners, in addition to the path forward within BWJ Phase IV Strategy context.

BWJ Phase IV Strategy envisions a competitive Jordanian garment industry built on stakeholder collaboration, which advances national economic development, lifts people out of poverty and upholds the fundamental rights of all workers.

“It is of vital importance to give workers a voice,” said Amit Mahtaney, managing partner at Tusker Apparel Company and JGATE board member. “The garments industry is a very labour-intensive industry, and the workers are the fundamental building block that efforts are built upon. It is extremely important to create a cultural shift in the mindset of the stakeholders by breaking down the idea of management and workers because at the end of the day they are both employees at the factory.”

please find the full Minutes of the meeting from here

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