Jordan in need of labor law reform

With the issuance of the 1952 constitution, the Jordanian labor movement began to take shape, paving the way for trade unions to be formed. By the end of the 1960s, unions numbered 36. With the defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War and its subsequent internal events, cards were reshuffled at all levels. 

In1971, the Jordanian minister of social affairs issued a decision to reduce the number of trade unions to 24, which were further reduced to 17 unions in 1976. This decision was made based on the concept of occupational classification, according to which Jordanian labor law prevents the formation of new trade unions beyond this framework.


This situation contributed to creating a monopoly for leadership positions, which are practically not subject to any rotation among the leaders of the majority of the 17 trade unions working under the umbrella of the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU). The majority of the unions’ presidents have preserved their posts from the time of their election two decades ago. It should be noted that the presidents of the unions are selected in uncontested elections.

The predicament of the GFJTU is not the result of government interference alone, but is also because of the absence of the right to organize and freedom of association in the Jordanian labor law. This is not to mention the fact that the public sector is deprived of the right to organize.

This is a systematic policy that has been applied during the past four decades by the authorities to control the labor movement. This resulted in the deformation of labor relations in the private and public sectors. The huge numbers of labor protests that emerged in recent years outside the framework of trade unions are nothing but proof of this.

The “April Uprising” in 1989 was a turning point that revived political and democratic life, and provided a climate of freedom of opinion and expression, bringing parliament back to life. Thus, many work forces started to rethink their reality. Many movements were launched inside labor unions to straighten out their conditions. However, they failed to do so because of the absence of democratic systems governing the work of unions.

In 2006, day laborers in the Ministry of Agriculture started movements demanding to become permanent employers in the ministry. However, when the GFJTU did not take their side, voices were raised demanding the establishment of real umbrella organizations to defend and safeguard the rights of workers.

In 2009, the workers of the port of Aqaba struggled for their rights and — despite the state of repression they faced — they refused the interference of the head of the GFJTU as a mediator between them and the management of the port, given his full bias against them and lack of responsiveness to their demands. Therefore, many Jordanian labor sectors started to think about finding an alternative.

Independent trade unions

The emergence of independent trade unions is the result of a variety of regulatory reasons and demands, which can be summarized as follows:

The improvement in the practice of public freedoms and the right of assembly.
Low wage rates and high cost of living.

Administrative and financial injustice toward some public sector employees who were barred according to the law of the right to organize, which prompted them to go to the streets to uphold their rights and thus form their own unions.

The prevailing state of tension between a large number of workers and their "official" unions.
A lack of democracy at the level of the GFJTU and union members.

In order to form [trade unions], the Union of Independent Trade Unions and union members referred to a legal source from Jordan's national legal documents. Chief among these documents is the Jordanian constitution, of which Article 16 stipulates, after recent amendments, “the right to form associations, trade unions and political parties, provided that their purposes are legitimate, their means are peaceful and their bylaws do not violate the provisions of the constitution.”

Add to this the International Labor Organization conventions, the first of which is related to freedom of association and protection of the right to organize (1987), and the second of which is related to the right to organize and collective bargaining (1998). The conventions also include the Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work [adopted in 1998], which explicitly states the need to harmonize the laws of the countries of ILO member states with international labor standards related to the right to organize.

Add to this the decision of the Constitutional Court, No. 6/2013, dated July 24, 2013, which grants civil servants the right to form unions. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions contains the first trade union in the public sector, which is the trade union of employees in the Department of Statistics.

Challenges

The most important challenges that the independent trade unions are facing is the lack of official recognition by the Ministry of Labor and the denial of registration, on the grounds that labor law does not permit the introduction of new unions. Thus, trade unions fail to collect subscription fees from members or to rent offices. The marginalization of the labor movement for a prolonged time has led to a shortage of trained trade union cadres.

Meanwhile, the development of independent trade unions in the informal sector is still modest. A union for taxi drivers has been formed, but it is still in its early stages. In addition, a preparatory committee for the establishment of a trade union for workers in construction in the province of Irbid has been formed. Independent trade unions are spreading in the following sectors: phosphate, medicine, electricity, municipalities, the Greater Amman Municipality workers, flight attendants, pilots, printing houses, drivers and container port workers.

The Jordanian labor law needs to be amended in line with constitutional amendments and international standards. At the beginning of this year, independent trade unions called for a national forum that was attended by Jordanian MPs, figures and representatives of civil society institutions, and studies centers. The forum was held in a bid to launch a national campaign to amend the labor law. The event led to the emergence of a follow-up committee representing several categories of Jordanian society.

Vision for the next phase

In the legislative sector, there is a need to reconsider legislation related to the freedom of labor and to unify the legislation and the funds for unemployment. In addition, the state has to assume its responsibilities, in terms of support and employment. It has to amend the labor law and the civil service law, in line with the recent constitutional amendments, the international agreements signed by Jordan and the rights and interests of workers, so as to ensure freedom of trade union action in the public and private sectors.

In the economic and social spheres, a re-evaluation of the economic approach and privatization projects is required.

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