Female workers are discriminated against and still often paid below the minimum legal salary a month after the government raised the minimum wage by the equivalent of US $22, according to workers and union leaders.
In May, the government raised the minimum wage per month from the equivalent of US $120 to US $142 in an effort to offset increases in living costs that came following recent fuel price hikes. However, workers and labour leaders complain that women working jobs in several sectors have been paid wages much less than their original salaries before the pay rise. Some women reportedly earn the equivalent of only US $60 a month for working 10- to 12-hour days.
Many women, despairing of a solution, say they are left with little choice but to work. Zakya Rashad, 35, had to find a job after her husband died in a bus crash three years ago. Now, living in a small house in the village of Abu Nusseir some 30km north of Amman, she must work to support her six children.
Working in a nearby chemical factory for the equivalent of US $70 a month, she has waited in vain for a long-promised pay rise. “When I was first hired, I was given US $60 monthly, with a promise of a rise when business improves,” said Rashad, who recently brought two of her daughters to work with her to make ends meet. “It was impossible to live on the salary I earn. I had to force my daughters to drop out of school and work.”
Not far from Abu Nusseir, Khadra Um Thaer must work to support her 12 children after their father suffered a back injury and could no longer work. “I couldn’t watch my children starve. I had to take any job offered me,” said Um Thaer, who works for the equivalent of US $60 a month in a textile factory that exports finished products to Israel and the US. “When I heard the government raised the minimum wage, I couldn’t help but laugh, because the term ‘minimum wage’ isn’t in my boss’s vocabulary.”
An uphill battle
Recent labour ministry figures indicate that more than 200,000 of the national workforce are women, the majority of whom come from impoverished families. Many women say they are forced by their employers to sign contracts stipulating that their earnings match the minimum monthly wage set by the government. According to union leaders, such practices usually occur in isolated towns and villages, where inspectors rarely make an appearance.
Many company heads, however, insist they are paying workers in compliance with the law. “Ask any of my employees – they’ll tell you they’re getting the minimum wage set by the government,” said Abu Fares, owner of a chemical factory where several employees told IRIN that they received salaries well below the set minimum. His comments were typical of several employers interviewed.
Labour leaders, meanwhile, say their hands are tied, and blamed both the government and employees for the predicament. “We’re fighting an uphill battle to have the minimum wage implemented, mostly in light industry, where women are the employees of choice,” said Fathallah Emrani, vice-president of the General Federation of Jordanian Labour unions, which represents more than 1.5 million workers.
Emrani went on to complain about the “reluctance to come forward” on the part of many exploited female workers. “The problem is that women are reluctant to file lawsuits against employers for fear of retaliation,” he added, blaming “ignorance and lack of awareness” for ongoing abuses. “We’ll never be able to help workers if they don’t inform us of their problems.”
He also blasted the government's “inability” to satisfactorily regulate the labour market. “The labour ministry has 80 inspectors scattered across the kingdom to monitor the activities of more than 40,000 work institutions,” said Emrani. “That just isn’t enough.”
Meanwhile, labour ministry officials insist that most employers abide by the law. “We send regular inspection teams across the kingdom,” said a senior ministry official, requesting anonymity. “And whoever is found in violation of the law is punished.” Violators are generally fined the equivalent of US $40 for every month of a given worker's employment and forced to pay the difference retroactively.
Some business leaders, however, believe that meeting minimum wage requirements will only grow more difficult, given the country’s deteriorating economic situation. Others fear it could encourage mass layoffs at factories already working at half-capacity due to shrinking demand in world markets.
According to official estimates, unemployment in Jordan stands at almost 15 percent, while one fifth of the country's 5.5 million-strong population lives below the poverty line.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions