3 March 2016.
Amman – The first of a string of seminars set to change the approach towards disabilities in Jordan’s workplaces kicked off earlier this month, with the aim of creating a snowball effect throughout the country.
Better Work Jordan —a joint project of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation— in collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Labour (MOL) and The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) launched the seminar dubbed “Creating disability friendly workplaces” to facilitate the employment of persons with disabilities within the job market.
Representatives of textile factories affiliated with BWJ’s programme and labour inspectors from the MOL attended the seminar, which included role-playing games where the participants performed typical “good and bad behaviours” addressed towards workers with disabilities inside the factories and discussed their outcome.
The agencies also spelt out ideas on how to improve the working space inside outdated buildings to make them accessible to and liveable for all the workers.
“It is important that companies know the building codes in order to easily employ people with disabilities,” said Rania Abu Zeitoun, manager at Classic Fashion in Ajloun, herself a worker with a physical disability.
“We have to think about how to make a better environment for disabled workers,” she said following the seminar, adding that 350 workers were currently employed in her factory, 17 of whom were persons with disabilities.
“Still, our facility needs to undergo some improvements in order to host more people with disabilities,” Zeitoun said.
According to a 2015 report conducted by the Higher Council for the Affairs of People with Disabilities in cooperation with Jordan’s Department of Statistics, the disability rate in the over nine-million-inhabitant country is 13 per cent. Individuals may have physical, hearing, mental, vision or cerebral palsy disabilities.
Figures also show that about ten per cent of people with disabilities above 15 are unemployed, though actively looking for jobs, while those working make up some eight per cent, with male workers with disabilities accounting for over three-quarters of that total.
Article 13 of the Jordanian Labour Law states that employers must hire at least one worker with a disability over a workforce spanning 25 to 50 employees. If more, workers with disabilities should account for four percent of the workforce.
But the report said the employment of people with disabilities in Jordan’s public and private sector only rose to one per cent in 2015, up from 0.5 per cent five years earlier.
“The law is there and we must work together to achieve a better inclusion of people with disabilities in Jordan,” said Majed Jazi, head of the Directorate for Employment at the MOL. “The seminar is a very appropriate occasion to discuss ways to reach this goal and exchange ideas among all parties on how to overcome the barriers that still prevent workers with disabilities from accessing the labour market.”
Falling under the Decent Work Country Programme set up by the ILO and running through next year, BWJ is set to share its expertise to improve the working conditions of employees with disabilities inside its affiliated companies, 69 percent of whom meet the employment threshold set by the government concerning persons with disabilities.
“BWJ, in cooperation with its stakeholders, is set to create a better environment for workers with disabilities in the country’s garment factories,” said BWJ enterprise advisor Maysa Al-Hmouz following the seminar. “This is why we are promoting the implementation of these seminars across the country, to boost inclusion and employment for people with disabilities.”
Yahoko Asai, advisor for disabilities affairs with JICA and one of the seminar’s organizers, said that the four percent threshold mentioned in the Labour Law was very ambitious.
“Of course the law is there, but in reality, it is somehow not well connected in the way it should be implemented,” Asai said. “Some companies show a really open and positive attitude by saying they are ready to employ people with disabilities and want to learn more about this issue. Others, instead, just say they cannot hire people with disabilities, or that there are no vacancies available, or that the nature of the job prevents them from hiring workers with disabilities.”
Though company owners sometimes failed to see the opportunity or potential in hiring people with disabilities, Asai said that the problem of their exclusion develops from a much earlier stage in Jordan.
“People with disabilities don’t even reach the job market because they are excluded from education and other basic services, which also leads to the lack of motivation from their parents,” she said. “Thus, people with disabilities become sort of transparent and the society feels it cannot do anything with them.”
But Khandokar Rezaul Karim from Prestige Apparel said that the attitude towards workers with disabilities was changing in the country.
“Steps have been made,” he said. “Today there is a completely different approach towards the issue if compared with a few years back. Still, it will take time to implement further changes, as the topic is still a new one in the country.”
Meanwhile, JICA —which started a collaboration with BWJ this May to tackle workers with disability issues — is further cooperating with Jordan’s MOL and developed a book that will soon be distributed in the country’s companies. Providing a basic understanding of disabilities, the text aims to shed a different light on the barriers which prevent workers with disabilities from entering the workforce.