Ajloun Clothing Factories: Jordanian Female Workers in Difficult Working Conditions

Photo Credit: Ahmed Hamdan.

Report: Shifa Qudah and Ansam Bani Ismail.

Over the course of 2.5 years of work in the Anjara clothing factory in the Ajloun governorate, Fatima * (40s) * received only one day off, in order to avoid deducting any sums from her salary.

“I don’t take off days because I need every penny,” says Fatima, who has been working at the factory for nearly three years to help her husband support her family of seven.

The factory in which Fatima works is one of three factories established in Ajloun governorate as part of the so-called “productive branches” initiative for companies in areas with high rates of poverty and unemployment. The three factories employ 1,155 men and women, distributed as follows: 204 workers in the Kafranja factory of the Advanced Technology Company for the Manufacture of Ready-to-Wear clothes, and another company owned by it called Al Mafhoom for Garment Manufacturing. Another 358 men and women worker in the Anjara factory, and 593 in the Al-Junaid factory, which belong to the traditional fashion company for the manufacture of clothing, according to figures issued by the Ministry of Labor in November of last year.

The two reporters monitored difficult working conditions that workers complained about in these three factories, by documenting the experiences of 17 cases as follows: 5 workers in the Kafranja factory, 6 in Anjara factory, and 6 in Al-Junaid factory. The violations reported range from being denied sick or annual leave and being forced to work overtime, in addition to work difficulties that threaten their safety and sometimes leave them with health problems.

What is the productive branches initiative?

The Productive Branches Initiative is one of the government-supported employment programs to “provide training and employment opportunities for unemployed Jordanians” by establishing factories in poverty pockets areas in Jordan. Work began on them in March 2008 with the aim of “transferring investments from development areas to poverty pockets areas, and the focus on women’s entry into the labor market by providing employment opportunities for unemployed females in regions with high rates of poverty and unemployment”, according to the ministry’s response to a request for information submitted by the report’s authors. 

The Ministry of Labor implements the initiative with the support of the Royal Court, which provides “the financial support and facilities necessary for the success of this initiative,” in addition to funding the initiative by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation and The Vocational and Technical Skills Development Commission.

Investors in this initiative are offered incentives through the Ministry of Planning or the Skills Development Commission by contributing to financing the cost of building the factory at an amount ranging between JOD225-250 per square meter, granting the building to the investor free of charge for a period of three years, in addition to providing infrastructure such as water, electricity and roads if necessary. The productive branches are built on lands belonging to the state treasury or owned by municipalities, and the investor can rent or build a building at its own expense, according to Najah Al-Buraiqi, director of the Projects and Productive Branches Unit at the Ministry of Labor.

On the other hand, the investor receives support for those working in his factory by contributing for a period of one year by paying 50% of the minimum wage for workers, JOD25 for social security contributions and another JOD25 transportation allowances for the worker, according to the Ministry of Labor.

Projects (factories) that are established within the production branches are granted tax benefits according to a decision issued by the Council of Ministers in April 2016, including: the adoption of income tax for their industrial activities at a rate of 5% or less, and the exemption of materials, equipment, machinery, tools, spare parts, production inputs and their requirements, and imported building materials involved in building, constructing, equipping and furnishing these projects from customs duties and taxes1, and reducing the general sales tax on these materials – whether imported or purchased from the local market – to 0%2.

Until November of last year, about seven thousand workers were working in the factories of the productive branches in Jordan, and the total value of the funding granted and estimated to the productive branches was about JOD69m, distributed over 60 branches, of which 28 branches were working. The rest of the branches are under construction, investors are being searched for, or are under process. In other words, it is negotiated with investors in order to establish it.

Deprivation of annual leave

Fatima receives JOD220 a month, in addition to JOD17 in a transportation allowance, and this amount is barely enough for her and her family, as she says, as she pays JOD20 for transportation, pays for her obligations, loans and what she owes to the money pools in which she participates. Only JOD13 remain for her, therefore, she cannot ask for leaves to avoid deducting it from her salary, knowing that the basic principle is that the worker obtains an annual leave, and if he/she wishes to carry it over for next year, it is done in agreement with the employer, according to the head of the Workers House Corporation, Hamada Abu Najma.

In order to encourage the workers in those garment factories to avoid absence, “non-absence incentives” are given to them, according to the head of the Textile and Garment Workers Union, Fathallah Al-Amrani, who considers this incentive important, noting that companies give this incentive to their workers in agreement with the union.

On the other hand, Abu Najma affirms that the incentives for leave, or absence, are contrary to the law, as workers must be granted their leave, and Article 4 of the Labor Law states that “any waiver by the worker for any of his rights stipulated in the law shall be considered null.” As per incentives, the principle is that they are given to the best in productivity or commitment, according to his explanation.

Female workers find it difficult to obtain sick leave. This is what Heba *, a sewing worker in the Anjara garment factory, faced when she was in severe pain for three days while she was at work. The factory doctor gave her a treatment for infections to no avail. Yet, she managed to visit a hospital on her only day off, to discover that her appendix had burst due to acute infection, and she needed urgent surgery to remove it. She took a month off to recover, and after returning to work, she finds it very difficult to request any leave even for medical reviews, “After the operation vacation, and whenever I want to take off days, they tell me you took it already, “says Heba. She also mentioned that workers are held responsible for any defect or malfunction in the factory machinery, and sometimes it is deducted from their annual leave.

Heba has been working in the same factory for almost 3 years, and she confirms that her repeated attempts to obtain permission to leave are very difficult, as the factory administration demands that she complete 250 pieces per hour before leaving, and failure to do so exposes her to being reprimanded, which forces some seamstresses to stay in the factory after the end of working hours until they achieve their target.

Tightening up in sick leave

One day, Wafa *, who works at Al-Junaid Factory, felt very cramped and tired until she lost consciousness, and the factory doctor did not give her sick leave until after making sure that she was not able to work, so he sent her home and gave her leave for the next day.

Wafa says that the factory management only recognizes the medical report signed by the factory doctor. Therefore, Linda Al Kalash, Executive Director of the Tamkeen Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights, stresses the need for the factory doctor to deal professionally, regardless of the production process.

For his part, the director of the factory, Youssef Qaddoumi, explains that the strictness in granting sick leave stems from the lack of credibility in the workers’ excuses, saying that about 100 workers are absent every day without knowing the reason,“ When you come asking for a leave. I am 90% sure you are not honest. This is perceived by the experience we had, “says Qaddoumi.

In the Kafranjah factory, Ahlam (20s)* works as a seamstress in order to support her brother and mother after the death of her father. This situation prompted her to accept a salary of only JOD218. She received an increase of JOD30 distributed over the last two years, “I certainly get tired, but what can I do? This is my source of income. No job comes without getting tired at all, “Ahlam says.

The long working hours are separated by a half-hour break, but without meals, so most of the workers resort to ordering food at their expense as well, so their salaries are divided between transportation, family expenses, and meals, according to Ahlam.

Some stages of work require the production of 400 pieces per hour, while others range from 100 to 200, as Ahlam explains, noting that requests for leave are often rejected under the pretext of work pressure. She recalls what happened with her when she asked to leave a week before her appointment with the doctor in order to avoid short notice. Yet, the factory management informed her two hours before her appointment that it refused her leave request due to work pressure, so she had to wait another week to be able to take permission and go to the doctor. 

According to the collective work contract (sectoral agreement) concluded in November 2019, between the General Union for Workers in the Textile and Garment Industry on the one hand, and the General Union of Textile Factory Owners and the Jordanian Association of Garment Exporters on the other hand, the employer is obligated to provide a health clinic at the workplace equipped with medical staff, “and in emergency cases, the medical staff must transfer the worker to a specialist doctor or to the hospital quickly and without any delay, so that the worker can obtain the required health care and appropriate treatments at the employer’s expense,” according to Article 11 of the collective contract.

Al-Amrani, head of the Union of Textile and Garment Workers, confirms that doctors working in the production branches belong to the companies that run factories, and that companies are obligated to follow up with the doctor. Note that the collective contract places a joint responsibility on the union, the employer and the representatives of the employers for managing and implementing the contract and ensuring compliance with its provisions.

The director of human resources at the Kafranja factory, Malekan Al-Khatatba, denies that the factory requests an increase in the number of pieces produced per day, while a worker who has completed the required number can move between factory rooms to help other workers.

Al-Khatatba explains the system for dealing with sick leave in the factory, saying that if the sick leave exceeds 48 hours, it must be signed by a specialist doctor, and the factory approves the leave signed by the hospitals of the Ministry of Health and sealed by the doctor himself, the hospital and accounting department, in addition to the financial receipt, to be presented to the factory doctor who makes his decision about it.

This is due to the fact that in many cases workers request sick leave without necessitating it, as for annual leave, its acceptance or rejection depends on the conditions of work, noting that workers are not deprived of their leave, and not forced to take it, with the possibility of replacing the leave days if they reach 14 days payable.

Meanwhile, Qadi Pervez, director of human resources at the advanced technology company investing in the Kafranja factory, says that the annual leaves approved for them are in line with the labor law, and “cannot be replaced by incentives,” according to his response – via e-mail – to a question about granting some workers financial incentives in exchange for waiving annual vacations.

Al-Khatatba says that the factory started its work in 2014, with 47 sewing machines, reaching 133 in 2019, and the clothes they produce are not sold on the local market, but are exported to the United States of America and Canada.

Health problems

“Whenever my son sees me, he used to say, “Forget about this job, but do we have other source of income? “When he answers the question, he is back to silence.” This is how Fatima describes the stress she feels after the end of her daily work in the factory, which drives her to sleep once at home.

The daily work in the factory is 8-4, and the workers suffer, according to what was monitored by the reporter, from standing continuously for 8 hours for non-seamstresses, or sitting 8 hours continuously for seamstresses, to produce 200-250 pieces per hour, which causes them pain in the joints and the back, in addition to varicose veins in their feet, which is a disease that affects the veins of the leg; as a result of standing or walking for long hours.

This is what Maysa (20s) *, who used to work as a quality supervisor in the Al-Junaid factory of the traditional fashion company, suffers from, as the nature of her work required inspecting clothes after sewing them, supervising the workflow of more than 14 machines, inspecting each of them 4 times a day, and preparing detailed reports that were delivered before 3:30. This forced her to stand for 8 hours a day, describing that by saying: “I am a 27-year-old girl with a varicose leg, sometimes my back hurts, I cannot continue without a back brace.”

The worker may have to cover more than one site at work, as Fatima explains, meaning moving between all stages of production, and her help is sought if there is a shortage or absence of one of the workers.  Due to her speed in production, she was assigned to work on two lines in order to finish 200 pieces per hour of each line.

As for the director of the Anjara factory, Rania Abu Zaitoun, on her part, thinks that the number of pieces is appropriate for the production process, since one piece passes by 88 workers, distributed over 4 production lines and a number of stages.

Despite sitting or standing for a long time, Al-Khatatba indicates a decrease in work injuries in the Kafranja factory, especially those related to needlework for workers, scissors wounds, and scratches from sewing machine engines.

Nonetheless, Abu Najma stresses the necessity of observing the conditions of public safety and occupational health in every institution, considering that sitting for a long time causes pain and diseases, and it is necessary for the Occupational Safety Committee of the Ministry of Labor to evaluate work risks and prepare monthly reports on them. If there are any dangers or damages to the workers, the committee is supposed to direct the employer to the correct means to avoid harming his workers.

The director of Tamkeen Center, Kalash, agrees with him, noting that workers have the right to take a break of 5-10 minutes separating working hours to change position, in addition to the need to change chairs if they are not suitable.

For her part, Najah Abu Tafesh, Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Directorate at the Ministry of Labor, says in a written response that the law does not specify the period or number of breaks for workers – except in the case of child labor – and refers to the text of Article 55 of the Labor Law that binds every owner employing ten workers or more by setting up an internal system to organize work in his establishment, in which he clarifies the working hours and the daily and weekly rest periods. This system is subject to approval by the minister or his designee.

On the safety conditions that must be met by female workers in garment factories, Abu Tafesh says that the Labor Law defines the employer’s duties with regard to occupational safety and health requirements, as he must provide the necessary precautions and measures to protect workers from the dangers and diseases that may result from work, according to Article 78 of Law.

Abu Tafish added that the law obligates the employer to appoint an occupational safety and health supervisor who specializes in periodic inspection of all workplaces, according to the system of forming safety, health and occupational committees and supervisors. “Therefore, one of the duties of the employer, and through the safety, health and occupational supervisor, is to conduct an assessment of the risks of the work environment, and take appropriate measures to protect their workers, “according to Abu Tafesh.

Lawyer Hala Ahed agrees with Abu Tafesh in the obligation of the employer to ensure the safety of the work environment and protect workers from risks in accordance with laws and regulations. Yet, she believes that this imperative does not exempt the ministry from its responsibilities in monitoring the implementation of the provisions of laws and the employer’s commitment to them, through the labor inspectors as inspection aims to verify the implementation of the legal provisions related to work conditions and the protection of workers while they are performing their work, and attention to securing safety, health and professional conditions.

It is noteworthy that the garment and textiles sector is not explicitly included in the instructions of sectors subject to the provisions of the system for forming committees and supervisors of occupational safety and health. Also, Ahed believes that this does not mean that workers in the sector are excluded from these instructions, but rather includes them in terms of protecting them from fire, noise and heat hazards, providing breaks and proper ventilation, lighting and personal protective equipment. “Also, the responsibility of the employer is not limited to the application of these provisions, as it is obligated under Article 78 of the Labor Law to provide the necessary precautions and measures to protect workers from the risks and diseases that result from work,” said Ahed.

Forced Overtime 

Raghad *, who works in the Al-Junaid factory, complains of forcing the workers to work overtime, under the pretext that the factory is going through a crisis, which leads it to close doors and extend work hours until 6:30 in the evening.

“When we signed the contract, overtime was optional. They ask you, do you agree to overtime? Most of time the answer is no,” Raghad says.

This factory has 55 sewing machines and 6 production lines, and its daily production reaches 20 thousand pieces, according to the director of the factory, Youssef Qaddoumi.

Abu Najma affirms that the principle of overtime work is to be with the consent of the worker and it is not permissible to compel him, and he is not assigned to do so without his desire, for compulsion includes special cases such as damage to the goods, but the work of clothes does not involve damage to the goods, it is not like food products, so any assignment without the desire of the worker is against the law and should not be done, he said.

Article 59 of the Labor Law stipulates that a worker may be employed with his consent for more than the daily or weekly working hours, provided that the worker receive additional work hour a wage not less than 125% of his regular wage.

 Inappropriate working conditions 

Workers in these factories complain of abuse by supervision or management, such as reprimanding colleagues or threatening dismissal, which is inconsistent with Article 29 of the Labor Law, which gives the worker the right to leave work without notice while preserving his legal rights and the resulting disruption and damage if he assaulted the employer or his representative, belies the worker during or because of work. This practice also violates the International Labor Organization’s 2019 Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

This behavior also contradicts the collective work contract between the General Union of Textile workers and the representatives of employers, which obliges employers to “promote a work environment free from violence,” and this includes moral violence, verbal abuse and threatening work for any reason whatsoever.

Abu Najma asserts that it is not permissible for the employer or his administrative representative to carry out practices that degrade the dignity of the worker, and that there are organizational procedures that are used with him without prejudice to his person or insulting him if he makes a mistake, as just offending and insulting him is a flagrant violation.

Workers also complain about not providing heating in the winter in the Kafranja factory, and some of them complain about deducting sums from their salaries in the event of a delay of 2 to 10 minutes despite poor transportation. Abu Najma and Kalash agree that the employer has the right to take measures and penalties within the framework of the so-called internal work organization, however, delaying 2-10 minutes does not necessitate an exaggeration of the penalty.

Although there are at least 20 working mothers in every factory, they lack nurseries, according to Ahlam, who demands to provide them to the children of female workers in accordance with the law. Kalash agrees to this considering the presence of a nursery within or close to the workplace as an important matter to facilitate the workers’ access to it.

The response of the director of human resources at the Advanced Technology Company, Qadi Pervez, came to what was monitored by the report – via an email – in which he said that their factory in Ajloun is “accredited according to the conditions and rules of the International Labor Organization” and is subject to regular scrutiny by the Ministry of Labor and the “Better Work” program ( of the International Labor Organization), and that they follow all the established guidelines, considering that what was monitored in this report “conflicts with matters on the ground.”

For nearly two months, the reporters tried to obtain a response from the management of the traditional fashion company for the garment manufacturing, which invests in the Al-Junaid and Anjara factories, about what was monitored in the two factories, but it refused to respond.

The Inspection Directorate at the Ministry of Labor responded to the violations documented in the report, by requesting the reporter to direct the workers to file an official complaint with the ministry or Hemayeh platform, “to give it priority and follow it up formally, quickly and confidentially.” Confirming that the monitoring of working conditions is “through continuous inspection rounds periodically on all factories, whether productive branches or others.” The directorate did not answer questions regarding the number and type of labor complaints it received from workers in the two factories of traditional fashion and advanced technology in Ajloun, claiming that it is “information that concerns the organization and we cannot disclose it in order to preserve the confidentiality of the information.”

Salary Increment Exception 

Al-Amrani, the head of the Union of Textile and Garment Workers, does not consider that the wages of Jordanian workers in the garment factories are low, especially since transportation is secured for them, and everyone whose place of residence is a kilometer away from the vicinity of the factory shall be provided with their transportation back and forth, according to him. He has also pointed out that an increase of JOD5 was spent on female workers whose period of work in factories is one year or more, according to a union agreement with factory owners concluded at the beginning of 2019.

Minister of Labor, Nidal Al-Batayneh, announced last February the decision to raise the minimum wage from JOD220 to JOD260 for Jordanian workers, while the clothing and textiles sector was excluded, based on what was agreed upon by the tripartite committee for labor affairs, headed by Minister Al-Batayneh, not to implement the decision for Jordanian and expatriate workers in the clothing sector, “where the sector is committed to implementing collective work agreements for workers in this sector (…), including the annual increment.”

Laith Nasraween, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Jordan, believes that excluding textile and clothing workers from the decision implies a “clear and grave” violation of the principle of equality among workers in the private sector, and is not based on a sound legal and constitutional basis, as it contradicts with Article 6 of the constitution stipulates that Jordanians are equal before the law, and there is no discrimination between them in rights and duties.

This is not the first time that workers in the clothing sector are excluded from the application of the minimum wage. In 2006 workers in the sector were excluded from the decision to raise wages for a period of 7 months from the beginning of June until the end of the year, and they were also excluded – along with domestic workers – in the decision issued in 2008, and since that year, non-Jordanian workers have been excluded from the application of the minimum wage, while the last decision affected Jordanian and non-Jordanian workers in the sector.

Lawyer Ahed says that “the sectoral limitations of the minimum wage may become justified if it takes into account the economic capacity of each sector and its ability to continue.” But she considers the exception of one sector, without conducting a thorough study commensurate with the rule of equal pay for work of equal value, a violation of workers’ rights and the concept of decent work, “especially that wages in the textile sector are low, and do not reflect the value of actual work in this sector,” says Ahed, and sees in this exception favoritism for employers and an evasion from the state’s responsibilities in defending workers’ rights.

She points out that excluding this sector in which female labor is concentrated will contribute to deepening the wage gap between women and men, which violates the principle of equality stipulated in the constitution, and contradicts the provisions of the Equal Pay Agreement adopted by the International Labor Organization and ratified by Jordan.

 __________________________________________________

Margins:

  1. Excluding export duties, service allowances and payable fees.
  2. Excluded from this are vehicles, tobacco and articles thereof, alcoholic beverages, intoxicants and beer.

* Pseudonyms were used for all workers at their request to preserve their privacy.

** This report is supported by “Journalists for Human Rights”.

Read the full story in Arabic here.
And hear the Ministry’s response here.

Search articles

Subscribe to the JHR newsletter

Explore topics

Tags

Tunisia Poland The Democratic Republic of Congo Pakistan Morocco South Sudan Lithuania Latvia Kenya Canada Iraq Afghanistan Lebanon Mali Turkey

Your donations help fund the work we do