Trade unions in Jordan..."Under restrictions"

Translated by: Julia Griffin Thomason  

Trade unions in Jordan..."Under restrictions"

Attempts by agricultural workers in Jordan to establish a union after a recent legal and human rights struggle, the last of which was to go to the Jordanian judiciary, have not succeeded amid complaints from other unions of restrictions

The Jordanian government recently decided to include agricultural workers in the food industry workers' union, to include domestic workers in the service workers' union, and to include cement workers in the union of miners and mining workers instead of establishing their own unions.

The Jordanian Labour Movement was launched through the formation of trade unions for the professional sectors in the 1950s. The General Federation of Jordan's Trade Unions was formed in 1954. The union was formed with six trade unions and reached about 36 unions by 1970. 

According to Ahmed Awad, the director of the Phoenix Center for Economic Studies, "government decisions have limited the number of trade unions to 17 since 1976, and despite the diversity of sectors and the increase of the workforce since then, no new trade unions have been allowed to be formed. This continued until the establishment of independent trade unions for sectors with no trade unions began in 2011."

Independent trade unions that are not legally recognized have left an impact, and through their leadership, sit-ins, and vigils they have been able to obtain workers’ rights, such as in the Independent Union of Workers in Municipalities, Electricity, and Ports. 


Read also: The right to unionize and its impact on workers’ economic protections


Jordan’s Constitution and Trade Unions 

The organization of these unions is based on constitutional texts; according to article (16/2) of the Jordanian Constitution, "Jordanians have the right to form associations and political parties, provided that their goals are legitimate, and their means are peaceful and have systems that do not violate the constitution.” 

Article 23 requires that the State guarantee workers a free trade union organization within the limits of the law, and article (128/1) affirms that (laws passed under this Constitution to regulate rights and freedoms may not affect the substance or basis of these rights).

Civil society organizations, human rights activists, and trade unionists are calling for a review of the Labor Code’s provisions relating to trade union organization, and for the inclusion of all categories of wage workers subject to the provisions of the Labor Code in the right to form unions, including agricultural and domestic workers.

Suleiman Al-Jamaani, president of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, said: "The launching of independent trade unions in Jordan was due to the failure of traditional trade unions to perform their role properly, after their alliance with capital and employers, so workers turned towards independent trade unions that take their decisions from the state."

He added: "The authorities in Jordan now have the most important file to do away with independent unions, and there is a fear that their role, numbers, and strength will grow like the teachers' union." 

He said: "There is a war against independent trade unions, and they are prevented from holding their conferences. The authorities treat trade unions as a security file as freedoms decline in Jordan, and therefore any force that organizes themselves is perceived by the authorities’ to be a danger as they are at risk of being singled out and overrun.” 


Comments from the Ministry of Labor  

In turn, the Director of Labor Relations of the Jordanian Ministry of Labor, Adnan al-Dahmasha, affirmed that "Jordanian labor law conforms with international standards on freedom of trade union organization."

He said: "There is no economic activity other than a trade union organization, and we have 17 trade unions across all sectors, together with 56 employers' unions, but the law prevents duplication in the formation of trade unions; our aim is to promote trade union action.”

According to local and international human rights reports, the Jordanian authorities are imposing restrictions on the freedom to form unions and are preventing peaceful assembly and freedom of assembly. These impositions include laws restricting the right to form associations, arresting political activists, and preventing sit-ins by the teachers’ union and other peaceful movements.


Official Concerns from Trade Union Organizing 

On the other hand, Hamada Abu Najma, president of the Workers' House for Studies, said, "Jordan's labor law has included many restrictions on the work, establishment, and activities of trade unions in violation of international standards. They adopted the method of registration and classification to give them moral authority, and the union registrar of the Ministry of Labor was given the power to refuse to register a union without indicating the reasons for the refusal."

"The membership of registered unions is about 427,000 out of a total 1,136,868 members affiliated with all civil society organizations; only 37.5 percent," he said. 

On Jordan's concerns about opening the door to trade union organization, he added: "This is a failure to consider the importance of trade union organization and their impact in community security, healthy relations between workers and employers, improving the working environment and productivity, and economically."

He said, "The official, negative view of trade union organizing must change. It is not permissible to fragment the democratic process by encouraging joining parties and neglecting unions."

"In 2010, there was an openness to trade union organization in legislation, but 9 years later that openness was reversed after the decline of the Arab Spring. We must uphold a clear will to improve the democratic process and to give the people the right to organize,” according to Abu Najma.


Binding International Agreements 

Internationally, Jordan has ratified most conventions and treaties relating to the right to organize, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates that (Everyone has the right to establish and join trade unions for his own benefit) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which affirmed that (Everyone has the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions in order to protect one's interests). 

Jordan has also ratified ILO conventions related to the implementation of the principles of the right to organize and collective bargaining.


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