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Access to justice for migrant workers in Jordan starts with grievance procedures

July 23, 2018

The combination of effective grievance procedures and action taken by a pioneering Workers’ Centre is helping to put an end to the abuse of migrant workers in Jordan.

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The Al Hassan Workers Centre in Jordan is a safe space for the thousands of migrant garment factory workers who work in the surrounding industrial zone, some of whom may be vulnerable to abuse.

Set up in 2013 by the garment employers, the garment workers’ unions, the Jordanian government and the International Labour Organization, it offers a range of services including skills’ training, legal advice and mental health counselling.

For a group of 100 South Asian migrant workers who had come to work at a small garment factory in the industrial zone, the Workers’ Centre was also the place that helped free them from modern slavery.

In violation of both the Jordanian law and international labour standards, their employer had confiscated their passports when they arrived and never obtained work and residence permits as required by the authorities.

It meant that these migrant workers were working illegally in the eyes of the law. When the authorities found out, fines were imposed of over two dollars per day. These had to be paid before any of them could work elsewhere or leave Jordan to return home. Stuck in this limbo and with growing debts, the migrant workers became increasingly desperate.

Access to justice

The ILO estimates that 150 million migrant workers worldwide are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by employers, recruiters and others and some end up in forced labour. Cultural differences, language barriers and lack of money make many feel they are second class citizens.  Often laws and protections enjoyed by citizens do not extend to them.

Most abused migrant workers do not go to court because legal processes are often long and complicated. However the Al Hassan Workers’ Centre helped the South Asian migrant workers find  an alternative route to justice.

On the advice of staff at the Workers’ Centre, they joined a trade union.

It meant they were covered by a sector-wide collective bargaining agreement that included a grievance procedure clause.

The Centre, along with the union, represented the workers in the grievance procedure process.

Staff at the Centre also contacted the Ministry of Labour and the factory was eventually closed down. The workers did not have to pay the fines and they were given the option of either working at a different factory or returning home, free of charge. The government’s anti-trafficking unit filed a legal case against the factory owner, accusing him of human trafficking. The case is still going through the courts.

“Effective grievance procedures can offer migrant workers an additional access route to justice and a quicker path to remedy. Redress can be especially speedy when a union representative, trusted and respected by both workers and management, represents workers in the process,” explained Phillip Fishman, Senior Technical Advisor at the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch.

“This is especially important because even in countries with the relevant laws and protections in place, legal processes are often lengthy and complicated. Many migrants fear that it will take years for their case to be heard in court and that they are unlikely to win. There are practical considerations too, such as how to find money for food and lodging while fighting a legal battle,” he added.

A second Workers’ Centre will open this year in another industrial zone in Jordan.  The ILO is also looking into replicating this model in other countries.

Forced Labour Protocol

Access to justice is one of the key planks of the ILO’s Forced Labour Protocol

Countries that have ratified the protocol commit to:

  • Providing effective measures for the identification, release, protection, recovery and rehabilitation of victims
  • Ensuring the victims can access appropriate and effective remedies such as compensation, irrespective of their presence or legal status in the country
  • Protecting victims from punishment for unlawful activities that they were compelled to commit while in forced labour.

The Al Hassan Workers’ Centre

The Al Hassan Workers’ Centre opened in 2013, set up by the garment factories, their chamber of commerce, trade unions, the Jordan government and the ILO, among others. It was the first of its kind in Jordan.

The center offers skills training, legal advice, mental health counselling, but also recreational activities, allowing migrant workers to build up a local support network.

The centre is a safe place where migrant workers can seek help in case of abuses of any sort, including forced labour. It is their place, with people they trust. At the centre, migrant workers can safely speak to their trade union, human rights NGOs, their recruitment agent, the ILO and others. Common cases include deception by recruiters about pay, poor working conditions, as well as sexual harassment.

The opening of the centre is a major step forward in efforts to improve the lives of workers in Jordan’s industrial zones, particularly migrant employees who make up about 80 per cent of the workforce. A second centre will open in another industrial zone in 2018. The ILO is also looking into replicating this model in other countries.