Farmers, advocates hail new bylaw, though ‘imperfect’

Long-awaited amendment to protect agricultural workers comes after 12 years of activism

A Jordan Valley farmer ploughs a field
A Jordan Valley farmer ploughs a field in this file photo (Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — A new bylaw to the Jordanian Labor Law, issued on Monday, finally provides protections to agricultural workers, after 12 years of advocacy. اضافة اعلان

The bylaw extends the protections offered to all workers in Jordan’s labor code, including a formal contract, work safety requirements, and compensation for workplace injuries. The bylaw provides for an eight-hour work day, with no more than forty-eight hours spent working per week, with an hour of rest and food, and details maternal leave policies, in addition to other regulations.

Previously Jordan News reported that there are 115,000 farmers in Jordan, who work on vegetable farms, poultry farms, cattle farms, and other parts of the agricultural sector.

“We think it’s a progressive step,” said Ahmad Awad, director of the Phenix Center for Economic Studies and Jordan Labor Watch. “And it will impact positively on the working conditions of workers... During the last year, the working conditions of the agricultural sector have been very poor.” He described “a lot of violations’’ of labor standards in the sector and “many deaths.” “And the workers in this sector are excluded from the social protection system,” he added. “We think that issuing and implementing the bylaw will safeguard the rights of workers in this sector.”

Advocates have called for the implementation of the bylaw for over a decade. Twelve years ago, when the Labor Law was amended, the government “told us at that time, they would issue a special bylaw to include and to protect the rights of workers in this sector,” said Awad. “Because the workers in this sector are suffering from some specific conditions. After twelve years, they enacted it.” The latest version of the Labor Law was issued in 1996 and amended in 2002.

The agricultural sector is an important but often informal aspect of the Jordanian economy. A 2018 document from the World Bank found that while agriculture only constitutes around 4 percent of Jordan’s GDP, between 20 to 25 percent of the country’s “active” population is involved some way or another in the agriculture and food sector. However, many agricultural workers are a part of the so-called “shadow economy” or “informal economy”, which encompasses around half of Jordan’s workers. Informal workers, which include a significant number of migrant workers, have few legal protections.

“One of the most positive articles in the bylaw mentions that if any rights are not available in the bylaw, the labor standards available in the labor law should be implemented,” said Awad. “I think this is one of the positive parts. All labor rights available in the labor code are available in this bylaw.”

According to the labor activist, the bylaw has been long delayed because of pressure imposed on the government by the owners of agricultural businesses. “We think that the agriculture employers, the businessmen investing in the sector, put pressure on the government to not issue this regulation,” Awad explained. “But the government finally responded positively to the pressure of the civil society (organizations) advocating human rights and labor rights.”

Awad also attributed the timing of the law to the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which involves a review of the human rights record of each UN member state. Recommendation 135.16 of Jordan’s most recent review, in 2018, called for Jordan to “amend the labor law to protect the rights of agricultural workers, including legal safeguards to ensure decent working conditions.” “So it’s a requirement for the international community,” said Awad.

However, the bylaw is not perfect, according to Awad. The bylaw excludes “micro-operations” that employ three workers or fewer. he said that there is a “significant” number of agricultural organizations of this size - which are completely left out by the new protections. “Why does the government exclude the workers in these small farms? We think that it will keep these workers exposed to violations,” he said.

Basel Ramadneh, a farmer, told Jordan News that many of his colleagues have not noticed any difference regarding the new law of the agricultural workers because of the exclusion.

“I myself work in an agricultural land with four other colleagues. We are five workers and we are pleased with the new law. It has helped us a lot and protected our rights,” Ramadneh said.

“However, the new law has deprived my colleagues from provisions for limitation of working hours, and social security,” he said. “It is not their fault that they work on plots where there are less than three workers. They should reconsider this loophole I believe. Sometimes they have to work for hours despite being sick or tired, and nothing guarantees or protects their rights.”

In a message to Jordan News, spokesman for the Ministry of Labor Mohammad Zyood said that “The exception is not absolute and the matter is left to the compatibility between the small farm owner and the workers.” The law stipulates that for businesses employing three workers or less, “worker hours, holidays, and vacation hours are regulated by the owner.”

Zyood added that the bylaw took time to be issued because it required “long dialogues over the past years until it was issued in a formula that satisfies the worker and the employees.”

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