Migrant workers in Jordanian garment factories that produce for international – especially US – brands now have union representation following elections last month.
The union election was held in garment factories in the Al-Dulayl Industrial Zone in Amman, Jordan, with plans to extend the process to those in the Irbid and Sahab regions.
According to an overview of Jordan on the re:source by just-style strategic planning tool, the apparel industry makes up nearly 20% of the country’s total exports. The garment sector in Jordan employs about 69,000 workers, of which 75% are women. Around 16,000 are from Jordan, while 53,000 migrant workers from Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, China, Cambodia, Madagascar, Pakistan, Myanmar and Syria make up the rest. There has been a massive influx of refugees fleeing Syria, many of whom have found work in the local apparel industry.
The factories produce for international brands – and uniting migrant workers in unions and establishing representation at national levels is seen as key to addressing issues around wages, social security, health and safety, and housing.
The project was launched at Al-Dulayl to raise awareness of unions, and introduce workers to the sectoral collective agreement signed by the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile Garment & Clothing Industries in Jordan (JTGCU), supported by the IndustriAll global union, to develop representative structures for migrant workers.
The agreement uniquely covers migrant workers, and IndustriAll points out that it is significant because migrant workers are not represented at the national level. Instead, representation is limited to union committees in factories.
A series of workshops was held in 2018 in which 168 union committee members participated. The training focused on Jordanian labour law, the collective agreement, the role of factory committees, and the importance of active involvement in unions to ensure workplace protection.
After completing the training at Al-Dulayl, democratic elections were held, with representatives from the JTGCU and the ILO present. 26 workers, predominantly women, were elected, proportional to the number of workers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
“Since the beginning of the influx of migrant workers to Jordan to work in the garment sector, the union has raised awareness of their rights and that they are not alone, that we support them, represent them and defend them,” explains Fathallah Emrani, president of the JTGCU.
“We needed to form trade union committees in the factories to represent the workers of all different nationalities, so that their voice reaches the ears of decision makers. We will also give them a role in the decision-making process of the union.”
IndustriAll representative Christina Hajagos-Claussen, adds: “In addition to the industry wide agreement, union representation of migrant workers at factory level is another step towards improving working and living conditions. The results clearly reflect the dominance of women workers in the industry, as they also dominated the seats.”
The United States is Jordan’s biggest export market for garments thanks to a free trade agreement between the two countries. In 2018, Jordanian garment exports to the US exceeded US$1bn in value, mainly comprising menswear.
While Jordan’s garment exports to the European Union (EU) are much smaller (US$41.6m in 2017, according to re:source by just-style), volumes are expected to increase due to the simplified rules of origin agreement, which was signed between Jordan and the EU in 2016 and is valid until 2030.
The EU-Jordan Association Agreement provides most Jordanian products, including textiles, apparel and footwear, with duty-free access to the EU market as long as the garments were cut and sewn in Jordan and the factory making them employs at least 15% Syrian refugees.
These relaxed rules of origin were expanded in December 2018 to apply to all factories across Jordan instead of just the 18 development and industrial zones. This is expected to further increase exports and drive investments in Jordan.