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Report shows rebound of Jordan’s garment sector amid ongoing labour concerns

19 Apr 2022

AMMAN, Jordan, 19 April 2022 – Better Work Jordan’s 2022 annual report showed improving business conditions in the sector and progress on working conditions. Exports partially rebounded in the country’s garment sector from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Compliance with national law and international labour standards improved in some key areas, including accurate and timely compensation and recruitment practices, such as reduced pregnancy tests for migrant workers. The report is produced from data collected throughout 2021.

Some of these improvements were driven by factors such as lower recruitment and fewer workers in the sector, so they might be transitory. Better Work Jordan reported high non-compliance in areas including accommodation (such as worker dormitories), freedom of association, and access to health services.

While the picture is promising for the continuing health of the sector, the report also recorded difficult conditions for many workers.  Long working hours, a historic challenge, was amplified by the pandemic, putting physical and psychological pressure on workers, with migrants working 61 hours per week on average in 2021 (while Jordanian workers worked an average of 42). Migrant workers make up three-quarters of the workforce, and nearly 75 per cent of workers are women.

The “Annual Report 2022: An Industry and Compliance Review” presents findings from Better Work Jordan representatives in participating factories in the garment sector throughout 2021. It draws from multiple sources, including assessment findings from unannounced compliance visits to factories conducted jointly with the Ministry of Labour (MoL); data collected during regular factory interactions; and survey data gathered over three years from workers and managers.

The Better Work programme is mandatory for garment factories that export to the US under the US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement. There are 91 factories employing 62,963 workers in the programme, around 95 per cent of garment workers in Jordan. Thus, the report offers comprehensive findings on trends, improvements, and challenges faced across the sector.

Sectoral rebound and increasing orders with a smaller workforce

Exports dropped by 15 per cent in 2020 but rebounded in 2021 with 8 per cent growth. Total exports remain lower than the peak of USD 2 billion in 2019, with USD 1.8 billion exported in 2021. The strong rebound was partially driven by buyers shifting from Asian producers, Jordan’s relatively successful control of the virus, and the demand for the type of products typically made in Jordan (casual and active wear saw growth). Order stability has improved overall.

However, Covid-19 restrictions and economic concerns made it difficult for factories to recruit new workers – there are approximately 10,000 fewer workers in the sector than in 2019. The limited number of new migrant workers coming from abroad, combined with the recovery of order volume, led to long working hours for many existing workers. Better Work Jordan noted working hours as high as 90 hours per week in some factories.

Ongoing challenges: OSH and compliance with the CBA  

According to the report, most factories are compliant with informing their workers about the provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which expanded in 2019.  Still, 83 per cent of factories failed to fully implement all provisions of the CBA. The main drivers of compliance-related observations were issues with worker accommodations (56 per cent), issues with day care facilities (29 per cent), and factories that fail to prevent mandatory pregnancy tests for workers (27 per cent).

Other notable challenges remain in occupational health and safety (OSH), such as accommodations, worker protection and welfare facilities. However, there was an increased willingness from factories to make suggested improvements in areas of OSH, suggesting an optimistic outlook for next year.

Recruitment practices improve but work remains

Non-compliance was observed in 27 per cent of factories regarding the discriminatory issue of requiring pregnancy tests for workers, compared to 55 per cent in 2020. This is a remarkable improvement, but an area that still needs attention. One potential reason for this change is that both Better Work Jordan and employers have taken a tougher stance on recruitment agencies and their practices.

These efforts have mostly been focused on recruitment practices in Bangladesh, because the majority of migrant workers come from Bangladesh, and all recruitment is done through a single agency, which makes advocacy easier. Issues of pregnancy testing of workers when entering the country also remain.

“Pregnancy tests for migrant workers is a serious indication of gender discrimination,” said Better Work Jordan Manager, Tareq Abu Qaoud.

The PAC members
The PAC members agreed on the need for providing workers with childcare support, but there was disagreement on how much employers were responsible for this support.

Childcare facilities for Jordanian workers

Per Jordanian labour law and the CBA, factories must provide basic welfare facilities to workers, including day care facilities. A new decision in February 2021 increased flexibility for employers by allowing them to pay workers directly if they do not have a day care facility.

Supporting Jordanian working parents is an important policy goal of the Government of Jordan, whether via designated facilities or informal family care. The GoJ gives flexibility to employers by allowing them to pay workers directly if they do not have a day care facility.

Haitham Al Najdawi, head of MoL Inspection Directorate, suggested establishing central childcare facilities at industrial zones; however, the union raised concerns that this approach has not worked in the past because Jordanians are reluctant to bring their children to such facilities. Twenty-nine per cent of factories did not provide adequate day care facilities or childcare support for workers’ children in 2021. Better Work Jordan is making continued efforts to monitor and highlight the issue of childcare facilities.

Worker accommodations require upgrading

Factories provide migrant workers accommodation, and the quality and safety of dorms is a big part of the workers’ experience. There are between 200 and 300 dormitory buildings in the Jordanian garment sector housing over 45,000 workers. Most of the dormitories are old, and many of them are converted factory buildings that were not designed to be used as residences. The structural integrity of these buildings is crucial to the health and safety of workers.

According to the annual report, there are numerous non-compliance observations when it comes to worker accommodation, although these have decreased in some areas in the last year. These non-compliance issues are related to cleanliness (52 per cent), preparation for emergencies (49 per cent) and meeting the minimum space requirements (29 per cent). Areas of improvement included adequate protection against heat and cold (27 per cent) and adequate eating and living areas (16 per cent).

There are currently no legal provisions addressing structural conditions of worker dormitories.

“A team comprising representatives of government bodies and the construction sector has been formed to devise an action plan,” Al Najdawi said. “We are working on a roadmap for building codes and standards that are binding to any establishment with worker dormitories, covering areas such as safety, ventilation, electrical wiring, and sanitation.”

Long-term strategy and approach

Better Work Jordan’s long-term goal is to build the capacity of national stakeholders through targeted training, coaching, and tripartite meetings, so that positive changes in the sector are sustainable. Better Work Jordan continues its close collaboration with the GoJ, particularly with the MoL Inspection Directorate, to ensure gradual transfer of knowledge, skills, and methodologies. In 2021, the MoL established a Better Work unit within the Central Inspection Directorate, a major milestone.

The 48th meeting of the Project Advisory Committee (PAC) examined the 2021 report. The PAC meeting grouped representatives of the Ministries of Labour, and Industry and Trade, as well as the Jordanian Garment, Accessories and Textiles Exporters’ Association (J-GATE), the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU), the Jordan Chamber of Industry (JCI), and the US Embassy in Amman. The PAC discussed the positive aspects of the reports’ findings on recovery, as well as key non-compliance observations and remaining challenges.

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