Syrian workers in Jordan

ILO Report: The Challenges Facing Jordanian Workers, Economic Migrants and Refugees in the Labor Market

The International Labour Organization (ILO) in collaboration with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) recently released an in-depth report on employment issues facing Jordanians, economic migrants, and refugees. With the Department of Statistics (DOS) revamping their methodology of calculating unemployment in Jordan, quarter one in 2017 had unemployment as high as 18.2 percent.

Author of the ILO report, Susan Razzaz, focused on key findings facing the unemployed in Jordan. Contrary to widespread belief, the first finding underlined that Jordanians do not have a culture of shame when it comes to the types of jobs they choose to seek out. Instead, Jordanian workers put more emphasis on the working conditions provided by the job or the sector. For example, many value on-time payments; reimbursement for overtime; predictable and sustainable hours; emphasis on skills rather than manual labor; and recognition of effort, including the possibility of advancement.

For this reason, Jordanians refuse jobs, not on the basis of the job itself, but on the condition in which they will be treated by employers. Patrick Daru from the ILO was involved in an infrastructure project in Jordan where he witnessed the impact that wages and working conditions had when it came to employing workers for the job. “We received thousands of applications [from Syrians and Jordanians] … it’s a very important lesson that if you provide a very adequate wage and working conditions you can actually influence the level of employment.”

The report additionally outlines how Syrian workers make it difficult for Jordanians to compete, as they are more willing to tolerate the working conditions that Jordanians feel are unacceptable. However, one opportunity Razzaz noted is that unlike most migrant workers, Syrian workers spend their wages in Jordan. This has largely to do with their families simultaneously being located here which eliminates the need to send remittances to relatives elsewhere.

Consequently, work permits have also caused a rift in providing secure and consistent employment for Syrian Refugees. According to Razzaz: “The laws themselves are quite sensible; the issue with work permits is that a disconnect has emerged between the decisions and regulations on governing the work permits, and the reality on the ground.” Without sufficient government monitoring and enforcement, many Syrians are forced to go without work permits and work in informal sectors, or purchase permits on the black market.

As for the recommendations put forward by the ILO, Razzaz and her team pointed out that providing electronic payment systems, enforcing overtime wages, increasing inspections on working conditions, increasing occupational safety and health, enabling dialogue between workers and employers, and enforcing a unified minimum wage will dramatically change the landscape of employment available to Jordanians, migrants, and refugees alike.

Furthermore, there is a need to modify work permits in order cater to the needs of employers and the safety concerns of refugees. There additionally must be a focus on addressing the needs of refugees as a distinct condition from migrant workers. This includes providing refugees with simple mechanisms for the formalization of Syrian self-employment, enhanced training and job matching, and mechanisms that encourage Syrian refugee employment alongside social protection.

“When you look at Jordan it does not function as a single labor market, it functions as three separate labor markets with one part nationals, [one part] migrants, and then you have the refugees. And each market has their own rules,” Daru said. This is why the ILO and the SDC are advocating for a harmonized set of working conditions for all jobs in order to build a common ground between all employers and all workers.

Pascal Raess, regional advisor for the SDC, said Switzerland sees the current crisis as an opportunity for Jordan and other countries to improve the regulatory framework and the implementation of the labor role to improve labor conditions for all. “Those who participated in the development of this report hope that the findings will be useful to the Jordanian government when choosing to implement new laws and regulations,” Raess said.