Kingdom's garment sector 'resilient' despite COVID-19

Workers are seen at a garment factory in Jordan in this undated photo. (Photo: Jordan News)
Workers are seen at a garment factory in Jordan in this undated photo. (Photo: Jordan News)
 AMMAN — Although the Jordanian economy was subjected to turbulence during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kingdom’s garment sector has proven to be “resilient,” according to a Better Work Project report issued by the International Labor Organization and the International Finance Corporation.اضافة اعلان

The report stated that “COVID-19 has had a major financial and human impact on the garment sector in Jordan.”

According to the report, in 2020, exports decreased by 15 percent, six factories shut down, and there were approximately 7,000 fewer workers in participating factories. In January 2021, 10 percent of employees across 46 of 88 factories had tested positive for the coronavirus across. The report also stated that “Jordanian workers were paid minimum wage but barred from working during some months of the year to limit the spread of COVID-19,” while “migrant workers continued working, albeit with reduced hours, which impacted their ability to send money home to their families.”

Tariq Abu Qaoud, director of Better Work Project, told Jordan News over the phone that “46 percent of workers in the garment industry are seeing a decrease in their income, 25 percent are working less, and 15 percent have debts which they cannot pay due to the pandemic.”

The report also indicated that 72 percent of workers in the exporting garment sector are women, while 76 percent are migrants mainly from South Asia.

The report highlighted some vulnerabilities and “severe violations” in the garment sector in the Kingdom, specifically in terms of adopting measures to ensure decent working conditions.

“COVID-19 has exposed some weaknesses in the industry in terms of compliance and provision of decent working conditions. Many factories had to prioritize COVID-19-related changes, which led to delays in addressing persistent issues and other violations,” read the report. “A small number of factories had severe violations, such as forced labor, inaccurate and late payment of wages, and reductions in the number of meals provided to workers.”  

The report lauded J-GATE (Jordan Garments, Accessories & Textiles Exporters Association) advocacy efforts which led to a change in government policies towards the sector during the pandemic.

“The country effectively shut down in mid-March, but stakeholders from the garment sector, led by J-GATE, were able to successfully lobby the government to allow production to resume for garment factories with additional health and safety measures in place,” according to the report. “In addition, J-GATE played a pivotal role in lobbying the government to relax the rules around contracts to allow migrant workers who had been working at factories that went out of business to be transferred to new ones.”

The report alluded to the Trade Agreements ratified by Jordan — most notably its agreement with the United States.

The report read, “The most significant agreement is the United States-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, which gives Jordan preferential duty rates and quota-free access to the US market. The report also pointed to Jordan’s agreement with the EU, which “applies to three non-garment sectors” and has “driven Better Work Jordan’s expansion into plastics, chemicals, and engineering sectors.”

“Globally the pandemic had a negative impact on the garment industry estimated at 30-50 percent, but domestically the sector was affected by a 15-20 percent due to the decrease in exports to the United States which is the destination for most of our garment exports,” said Abu Qaoud.  

“Six factories out of 96 have closed, 7,000 people out of 65,000 have lost their jobs due to the pandemic,” added Abu Qaoud.

Abu Qaoud highlighted the inoculation efforts exerted in the garment and textile sector to ensure that workers are immunized and working in safe conditions.

“42,000 out of 65,000 have taken at least the first dose of the vaccine; we consider this as a big achievement for the government and investors alike,” said Abu Qaoud.

Fathallah Al-Omrani, president of the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile Garment and Clothing Industry, explained why Jordan’s exports of garment to the United Stated saw a severe drop.

“Our exports to the United States decreased due to four main reasons. First, order quantities saw a remarkable drop, second, the work flaw saw disruptions due to cases of COVID-19 among workers, third, the pandemic also disrupted the supply chain and trade routes, and fourth, countries like China were unable to export and deliver raw materials to us so the time schedule was disrupted as well.”

Omrani added that during the pandemic, “many workers finished their contract period but could not travel back due to the border shutdowns … No more than 10,000 jobs were lost in the sector but we could not get replacements for the same reason.”

Mohammad Zyoud, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Labor, contended that “the ministry deals firmly with any labor complaints on wages or ending contract,” adding that employers “are obliged to pay wages to workers during the pandemic and those who do not comply will be dealt with in accordance with the law.”

According to Zyoud, “Any employer who proceeds to terminate the contracts of workers in violation of the defense law is obliged to return the employee to work.”

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