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Representatives from brands, manufacturers and the government discussed current and emerging COVID-19 challenges and opportunities facing the Jordanian garment sector
AMMAN (ILO News) – On 18 November, the Better Work Jordan 12th annual Stakeholders’ Forum convened virtually, bringing together high-level national and international officials and representatives from participating global retail brands. Under the main theme “Towards Decent Work: Challenges Presenting Opportunities”, the participants discussed the current challenges and emerging opportunities in the Jordanian garment sector through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the forum, representatives from the Ministry of Labour, the Trade Union and The Jordan Garments, Accessories & Textiles Exporter’s Association (JGATE) discussed the current economic and social situation in Jordan in light of the pandemic and its implications for the local garment sector. In addition, Better Work Jordan presented its ongoing project to digitize wage payments in Jordan’s garment sector in partnership with Better than Cash Alliance (BtCA) and GIZ. The ten-month project was launched in early 2020 and directly supports a group of garment factories in exploring different ways to transition from cash to digital payment methods.
Better Work Jordan also gave an overview of the progress made in the Enhancing the Structural Integrity of Dormitory Building in the Garment Sector project. Through this intervention, the program aims to understand the current situation of the dormitory buildings, and develop a roadmap to upgrade these housing units in alignment with international codes and best practices across the sector.
In an opening address to the participants of the virtual forum, H.E. the Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply, Maha Ali said, “Jordan’s billion-dollar textile and clothing industry is one of our country’s main export sectors.” Ali continued, “In 2019, the country exported more than $2 billion worth of textiles and clothing and garments accounted for 22 percent of Jordan’s total exports. The sector employs 27,000 Jordanian workers in different areas.”
“However, today, Jordan’s textile and garment industry is reeling under the impact of the coronavirus in these unprecedented times,” noted Ali. “This is evident in the decrease in exports, the cancellation of buyers’ orders, and the increase of downsizing across the sector.”
In his speech to the forum, Dr. Maen Qatamin, the Minister of Labour, highlighted the ongoing collaboration between the Ministry of Labour and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). “In May 2020, the Ministry of Labour signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the International Labour Organization to strengthen the capacity of labour inspectors. This will be implemented through the establishment of a Better Work section seconded to the Ministry of Labour to amplify the programme’s impact and ensure decent working conditions for workers in the garment sector,” emphasized Qatamin.
Dr. Qatamin also cited the series of decisions and exceptional regulations issued by the Jordanian Government since the outbreak of the global pandemic to ensure the protection of the production process in this critical time, “These measures include the release of Defense Order Number 6 that aims to safeguard existing job opportunities and avoid layoffs. In addition to that, the Jordanian government suspended several provisions in the social security law.”
Notably, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the first U.S. FTA with an Arab country. The agreement helped to expand the Jordanian economy while growing bilateral trade between Jordan and the United States by over 800 per cent since 2000.
“The FTA is about more than the number of garments produced,” said H.E. the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Henry Wooster. “The FTA also addresses worker rights, environmental standards, protection of intellectual property, and a mechanism for resolving disputes. The FTA has been key to Jordan developing a hard-won reputation for protecting the rights of the 70,000 workers in its garment sector.”
Ambassador Wooster underscored, “Now, COVID-19 presents a new challenge to the garment sector, which must still protect its workers. It’s the responsibility of the sector’s stakeholders, the government, the buyers, the employers, the trade unions and the workers themselves to uphold and improve these standards for Jordan’s garment sector workers.”
On a related note, H.E. the EU Ambassador to Jordan Maria Hadjitheodosiou emphasized the economic and social impact of the pandemic in her speech, “The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the structural weaknesses of many countries, including on decent work.” Hadjitheodosiou continued, “As the pandemic added additional complications and burdens to workers, employers and the government in Jordan, the European Union, in line with the principles of our development agenda on employment and decent work, will continue to focus on actions that maximize the creation and access to decent jobs, improve the quality of existing jobs and mainstream employment in all economic policies.”
“The launch of the EU-ILO programme for the monitoring of labour aspects in the implementation of the EU’s rules of origin initiative for Jordan translates these principles into action in Jordan,” explained Hadjitheodosiou, “as it facilitates Jordanian and Syrian job seekers’ access to decent work opportunities through employment and job-matching services, and monitors and promotes decent work principles in enterprises authorized to benefit from the EU’s relaxed Rules of Origin scheme”.
In her address to the participants of the forum, Mrs Frida Khan, ILO’s Country Coordinator for Jordan and Senior Specialist for Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination said, “The very purpose of Better Work Jordan is to ensure our workers are not simply fuel for the fire or fodder for the farm, but that they are recognised as women and men who have the right to freedom, dignity, safety, equality, and security in the world of work.” Khan underscored, “Despite Better Work Jordan’s enormous strides in the Jordanian garment industry, the impact of our work as Better Work Jordan will always remain constrained unless the wider enabling framework also aligns to augment our efforts. This means strengthening labour inspection, it means having clear policy measures, it means promoting, not restricting, the work of trade unions so they provide not only representation but also voice and agency to their members, including migrant workers.”
The 12th Annual Stakeholders’ Forum in Amman, jointly funded by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) and the European Union (EU) brought together government representatives, international buyers, garment sector stakeholders and civil society representatives to virtually discuss cooperation in the country’s garment sector.
Better Work Jordan is part of the joint ILO-International Finance Corporation global Better Work programme which aims to improve working conditions and promote competitiveness in Jordan’s apparel industry.