31 October 2017.
GAZIPUR, Bangladesh/ADDULAYL, Jordan – Boby Akhther looks to the side and starts chuckling softly, one hand gently covering her mouth while the other grips the tunic of her traditional shalwar kameez. “I was a little scoundrel,” says the 21-year-old Bangladeshi worker currently employed in a garment factory in Jordan. “I quit school when I was 12, I really didn’t like it. My family got very upset.”
But Akhther didn’t sit back watching life unfold from her small village in the northern Joypurhat district bordering India. Instead, she moved some 200 km south to the capital Dhaka and started working in a garment plant.
Still, the money was not enough to achieve her ultimate goal.
“I decided to move to the Middle East about two years ago to fund my sister to attend university after completing high school,” Akhther says. “Baby is now 16 and loves studying. My dream is to see her become a doctor one day.”
After several chats with a cousin who was already working in a textile factory in Jordan, Akhther applied to a similar position through a Dhaka-based recruitment agency. A Bangladeshi firm with operations spanning both countries eventually hired her.
Akhther says from that moment on everything happened very fast: she attended a six-day technical training on her future quality assurance position and, at the company’s request, a one-day pre-departure course organised by Better Work Bangladesh (BWB).
A week later she collected her air tickets and boarded the seven-hour flight to her new home.
“Initially, I was a bit scared but then I remembered we had that training back home on how life would be like in Jordan, and all bad thoughts immediately dispersed,” she says. “Thanks to that course, the travel itself was the turning point from a situation I knew to another one I realised I also already knew.”
Akhther is among some 60 women who attended the Better Work training before relocating to Jordan in early 2016.
Thousands of garment workers leave Bangladesh and other South and South East Asian countries every year to seek better opportunities in the Arab Kingdom. The sector’s $165 monthly minimum wage is more than twice the salary they would receive back home for the same job.
“Our team in Jordan requested us to conduct this specific training in Bangladesh,” said Shipra Chowdhury, BWB Training Officer, who prepared Akhther and her colleagues for their trip. “Large numbers of migrant workers struggle to cope with the new country and, especially, the factory dormitories in which they reside and share with eight to twelve colleagues.”
During the course, Chowdhury says, the team not only shows them pictures of the housing units and industrial zones where they will live and work, but also talks about the country’s desert weather, harsh winters and general environment.
Hailing from a country with a tropical climate, Bangladeshi workers must know before their arrival that room heaters, heavy blankets, and hot water need to be provided by the factory.
Salaries, their administration and remittance, contract issues, local currency, overtime calculation, social security, leave policies, resignation and termination and emergency numbers are also among the topics covered during the course.
Ala’a Al Saifi, Better Work Jordan (BWJ) Team Leader, said the induction training idea came amid talks with colleagues from Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) in 2013. Back then, a Taiwanese factory in Jordan was struggling to retain its South East Asian workforce. Solutions were urgently needed.
“We came up with a course and a brochure including general information about Jordan and its legal working context,” he says. “When the newly trained workforce started arriving, they didn’t look as disoriented as before. We saw that the information provided ahead of their trips helped minimise the chances of bad surprises. Before arriving in Jordan, they already had a pretty clear image of what to expect.”
Building on the course’s success, more material was added over the years based on worker feedback and adapted to the different nationalities active in the Jordanian sector. Workers must now be aware before arriving in the kingdom that overtime is voluntary and how it is counted, when the salary will be paid and of their fundamental rights to avoid possible exploitation.
Conor Boyle, Better Work Global Operations Manager based in Geneva, says this initiative is built on the strength of the programme operating in a number of key apparel sourcing countries. Overseeing the Better Work operations in Jordan, Bangladesh and Cambodia, he stressed how useful it is for migrant workers to receive this training from people from their own cultures and in their own language.
“It is hard for most to imagine what it must be like for many of these young people to move to an industrial zone in a foreign country,” Boyle says. “But this is our job, and there is a lot empathy coming from our staff.”
Based on the training and material they received from BWJ, Human Resources factory staff also started to deliver refresher courses upon the workers’ arrival.
The same goes for Bangladesh, where factories began to conduct these courses to would-be migrant workers based on Better Work’s model.
“Hundreds of workers have been trained so far between Jordan and Bangladesh alone,” says BWJ Team Leader, Zainab Yang. “Minimizing chances for tensions and employee turnover inside the plant vastly benefits businesses: employers pay for each worker’s return ticket, work permit, food and accommodation, which is a big investment.”
Bangladeshi Mohammad Mesba, HR manager and welfare officer in a textile factory in Jordan says information provided in the training is simple and gives an accurate idea of what workers must expect before they arrive, so they don’t feel they’re being cheated.
Isha Akter, 28, a Bangladeshi quality assurance employee working in Jordan who attended the induction course in Dhaka early last year, says all she has been told, happened in practice.
“Why should I have been afraid?” she asks. “My compatriots are here, and a nice lady explained to us what it would be like to live and work in Jordan before we left. With my job, I guarantee my family back home a good life. If I didn’t come here, it would be unimaginable for them to enjoy the same status. Everything has changed since I came.”