No return ticket for foreign domestic workers in Jordan

**Image- Amman. By Spaza000 | Wikimedia Commons

Amman – When Moni Bakhti left her village in late 2010 heading for Jordan, she was apprehensive about the three-day trip and the long hours of waiting before reaching her employer’s house.  She was also apprehensive about her employer and his family of total strangers. But she tried to curb her fears with day dreams of building a beautiful house for her two children instead of their poor shack. Moni knew that she will certainly miss her husband and children for two long years… but she will return to her village much richer than she left … little she knew that she will return in her coffin! She fell from the 4th floor balcony of her employer’s apartment in Amman. Her death was reported by Ad-Dustour Newspaper on 28 January 2011, with the least possible details and without mentioning her name.

Interestingly enough, the newspaper reported the District Attorney saying that investigations were under way to determine if she committed suicide or tried to escape and fell. Obviously, no other options pertaining to her treatment, or rather abuse, were mentioned. Moni was not the only victim, as reports in the Indonesian newspaper “Jakarta Globe” in January 2012, claim that that 17 Indonesian migrant workers died in the country in 2011.

More Than Death!

Nonetheless, death isn’t the only ominous fate that awaits maids who venture into the unknown. Disempowerment of domestic workers starts in their home countries, where unscrupulous recruitment agents deceive them with false promises of easy work and high salaries. The problems continue in Jordan, where recruitment agents fail to provide copies of contracts and confiscate workers’ passports, and employers lock them inside the house to prohibit them from communicating with the outside world. Jordan has no shelter for domestic workers who escape, leaving them with nowhere to turn for help. Many of the 70,000 migrant domestic workers from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the Philippines now living in Jordan face the same abuses as migrant domestic workers elsewhere in the region. These include beatings, confiscation of passports, confinement to the house, insults, non-payment of salaries, and incredibly long working hours with no days off.

Locked Up for More Than Three Years

One Indonesian worker was locked up for more than three years without pay because her employers, who had taken her passport, did not allow her to go back to her country. She escaped when the employers left the key in the lock one day, but prosecutors did not consider her a victim of trafficking. Forced labor coupled with economic exploitation – for example nonpayment of wages – constitutes trafficking under Jordanian law. Yet investigators in the anti-trafficking department as well as prosecutors have not classified more than a handful of cases as trafficking, despite numerous and extensive case files submitted by lawyers for Tamkeen, Legal Aid and Human Rights centre in Jordan.

Is Jordan a Better Option for Domestic Workers?

Even though Jordan was the first Arab country to use a Unified Standard Contract for domestic workers in 2003, and in 2008 it included domestic workers under its labor law. In 2009, Jordan issued regulations specifying labor protections, such as a maximum of 10 hours of work per day, a minimum of eight hours of continuous rest each day, a weekly day of rest, and regular salary payments. Jordan also passed a law in 2009 against people trafficking that criminalizes forced labor for exploitation. But abuses persist … and reasons are the weak enforcement of existing legal rights. These fall short of the standards set by a landmark international treaty to protect domestic workers’ rights adopted in June 2011. Jordan voted for, but has not ratified, the ILO Convention on Domestic Work, which obligates governments to ensure decent working conditions and protection from violence for domestic workers, and mandates compliance with national laws protecting them. According to Human Rights Watch and Tamkeen Center for Legal Aid joint report, issued in September 2011, “Jordan needs to enforce the legal protections for migrant domestic workers it has put in place over the past three years”.

New Laws and Regulations But…

New laws and regulations since 2008 give domestic workers the right to regulated working hours and a weekly day off, and criminalize people trafficking, but enforcement remains negligible, the organizations said. The 111-page report, “Domestic Plight: How Jordanian Laws, Officials, Employers, and Recruiters Fail Abused Migrant Domestic Workers,”  documents abuses against domestic workers and the failure of Jordanian officials to hold employers and the agents who recruited the workers accountable. The report also criticizes Jordanian immigration and domestic work labor laws for facilitating abuse, such as confinement in the home and imposing fines for overstaying the legal residency period, even where the worker is not at fault. “Jordan’s legal reforms aren’t worth the paper they’re written on if they don’t make a difference in the lives of migrant domestic workers,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If Jordan wants to remain a regional leader in protecting domestic worker rights, it should muster the political will to enforce its own rules.” Jordanian law still permits an employer to restrict a domestic worker’s movements, forcing the worker to stay in the employer’s house. The law does not require allowing the worker to retain all of her documents, including passports and contracts.

Domestic Workers Cannot Change Employers Freely

Jordan also does not allow domestic workers to change employers freely, even after the contract period has ended. Jordan imposes fines on those who are in Jordan without a valid residency permit, which only an employer can apply for, but often does not, according to the report. “Police detain domestic workers whose employers registered them as “escaped,” even when the worker had a valid residency permit.” Weak enforcement of existing rules means domestic workers sometimes forfeit rights, such as unpaid salaries, in exchange for the ability to return home. The Labor Ministry has only five inspectors for all domestic workers, but they have not exercised their authority to enter the homes to follow up claims of domestic worker abuse, it adds. A labor dispute committee for domestic workers follows no clear guidelines and takes months to issue non-binding recommendations for cases of complaints by domestic workers, says the report. “Inspectors have not reported as violations of the law cases of overlong working hours – on average 16 hours per day among those workers interviewed for the report – or failing to grant a day off, let alone fined employers for what are widely reported practices.”

Forcing a domestic worker to work beyond her two-year contract, or locking her in the home while not paying her, may amount to forced labor, defined in international law as labor extracted involuntarily under the menace of penalty, according the report. The inability to change employers freely or return home due to the criminalization of escape, immigration fines, and the confiscation of passports would constitute such a threat, Human Rights Watch and Tamkeen said. “We have repeatedly presented the anti-trafficking investigators with domestic workers who had suffered a range of abuses, sending lawyers and interpreters with them, but the investigators did not classify them as victims of trafficking, and in some cases even detained the workers for escape,” said Linda al-Kalash, director of Tamkeen.

Domestic Workers’ Countries of Origin

“Government actions – and sometimes inaction – further victimize women who have suffered tremendously, instead of helping them.” The report also looks at the role of governments in the domestic workers’ countries of origin, and finds that the bans Indonesia and the Philippines have imposed on its citizens working in Jordan have not contributed to their protection. Instead, the sending governments should focus on better regulating and monitoring recruitment agencies in their own countries, Human Rights Watch and Tamkeen said. According to the “Jakarta Globe”, the Indonesian Government is planning to completely stop its Nationals from working as domestic workers abroad by 2017, under a “roadmap” to reform and formalize its domestic worker sector. About 650,000 Indonesians leave home every year to work as maids abroad, most of them are females. Many still go there illegally and the government cannot do anything about it, according to the “Jakarta Globe”.

* Abeer S. Abusaud is a Communication and Marketing expert with more than 30 years experience in Communication, Mass Media, and Advertising. She studied Political Sciences at Cairo University and started her career in the English Service of Qatar Radio, Doha, where she authored the first English language book on Qatari women “Qatari Women Past and Present” published by Longman, U.K. 1984. Previous article by Abeer S. Abusaud: Jordan: Rights Activists Against Governors “Absolute Power”.  This article can be republished, sourcing and linking to: Human Wrongs Watch

**Image: Amman – Author: Spaza000 | Wikimedia Commons

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