‘Most’ farmworkers deprived access to SSC benefits

Figure put at tens of thousands employed in ‘shadow economy’

Farmers lack access to social security benefits as they serve in the irregular economy. (Photo: JNews)
AMMAN — The majority of farmworkers have no access to basic labor rights, simply because they work on the margins of the mainstream economy, officials, experts, and activists agreed. اضافة اعلان

Last week the government announced that it had allocated JD448 million to ease economic hardships resulting from COVID-19. The relief package includes funds dedicated to sustaining jobs in the private sector and an expansion of the social safety program, which delivers direct cash support from the government.

However, most of Jordan’s farmers and agricultural workers are not registered with the Social Security Corporation — preventing them from accessing this support.

“We have approximately 115,000 farmers in Jordan and most of them suffer from” a lack of access to social security, according to Mahmoud Rabei, assistant secretary-general for agricultural resources at the Ministry of Agriculture. “The number of registered establishments in the agricultural sectors in 2017 was only 111 establishments.”

He said in an interview with Jordan News that a lack of registration problem exists throughout different sectors in the agriculture industry, including “vegetable farms, crop farms, small poultry farms, small cattle farms, and other areas of the agricultural sector.”

The lack of registration is blamed on the existence of “unofficial and informal agricultural establishments, which are not registered in the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Supply and do not possess a national number,” Rabei said.

“This means that even if a farmer is free to register for social security on his own, he cannot do so as a worker because his establishment is most likely not registered with the ministry and does not have a registration number which is necessary to register the workers in the social security system.”

Likewise, Methqal Zanati, President of the Jordanian Farmers Union, confirmed in an interview with Jordan News that “thousands of farmers are not registered and do not have social security … Right now this process is closer to dreams than reality.”

Zanati criticized the performance of civil society institutions, particularly for their “failure to support” the agricultural sector.

“We will never be able to find solutions for these people without forming an organization that listens to their problems,” he said. “We can estimate that the number of these farmers and workers amounts to hundreds of thousands. It is an entire national army that needs organization.”

The Jordanian agriculture sector is relatively small but vital. The sector contributes about 4 percent of the country’s GDP, equaling $1.39 billion, and made up 18 percent of Jordan’s exports (or $6.2 billion) in 2016, according to the 2017 Jordan Investment Commission Report. The report also found that income from the sector supported around 80,000 families in both rural and urban areas.

Lack of formal recognition as workers and lack of registration with social security has a tangible impact on workers providing some of Jordan’s fruits, vegetables, and animal products, according to Zanati. He listed some of the consequences: “No source of income, no work injury compensations, no pension in the future. These are some of the things that they will suffer, not to mention that they are disadvantaged in many things like leaves, vacations, unavailability of nurseries for their children, and the list goes on.”

Progress is being made through the legislature, according to Mohammad Al-Zyoud, media spokesman for the Ministry of Labor. “The Council of Ministers approved the Agricultural Workers’ Bylaw for the year 2021, in view of the working conditions of agricultural workers, and with the aim of streamlining work in this sector. It covers all categories of workers without discrimination in rights,” including social security benefits, he said in a message to Jordan News.

But one labor expert described the bylaw as “very poor” in terms of social protection. “Many of the protections for the workers in the agriculture sector are not available in this bylaw,” said Ahmad Awad, Director of Phenix Center for Economic Studies, who viewed the bylaw several months ago. “We think that the workers will pay the price.” Awad also said that he has been working for 12 years to expand Article 3 of the Labor Code to include agricultural workers.

Workers in the agricultural sector in Jordan are often marginalized due to both gender and migration status, according to Awad. “We can say half of (workers in the agricultural sector) are migrant workers, mainly Egyptians. Some of them are Syrian. The others are from other nationalities, such as Pakistanis, Yemenis, and others,” he told Jordan News.

Meanwhile, “Most of the Jordanian workers working in the field are women.” He said farmworkers are “suffering from different violations: long working hours, low wages, and lack of coverage by social security,” at the time their work is seasonal and on per diem basis.

Awad also tied lack of social security in the agricultural sector to Jordan’s unemployment problem. “We are suffering from high levels of unemployment,” he said. “If you would like to encourage Jordanian men to work in this sector, you should improve the working conditions. One of the main components of decent working conditions is social security.”

“They will not benefit from” the COVID-19 relief package, Awad said. “Which is a disaster.”

“I must stress on how crucial it is to find a root solution to all the problems these people face,” Zanati said. “We must climb down the high trees to feel these people who work on land.”