Jordan’s garment sector remains barred for Nepali workers over low wage issue

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - The government has stopped approving labour demand letters since 2018.

The demand for Nepali migrant workers in Jordan’s garment sector has remained blocked for the past one and a half years due to a government stipulation that mandates labour demand letters to be first approved by Nepal’s diplomatic missions in labour destination countries.

The government introduced the new rule in May 2018. Since then, the demand for Nepali workers in the garment sector in Jordan has dropped to zero. Jordan is considered a comparatively safer labour destination for Nepali women.

Following the rule, the Nepali Embassy in Cairo, which also oversees Jordan, has stopped approving labour demand letters for Nepali workers, citing the remuneration being provided to Nepali workers as too low.

However, Nepali recruiting agencies supplying workers to Jordan say such a restriction has effectively deprived Nepali women of well-paying jobs, for whom foreign jobs are already scarce.

“The Nepal government and its missions abroad have stopped verifying workers’ demand letters over low pay issue, but the salary is not as low as they think,” said Abul Shah, managing director of SCC Manpower Company Pvt Ltd, a recruiting agency.

According to Shah, the obstruction surfaced shortly after Nepal and Jordan signed a bilateral labour agreement in October 2017 that facilitated the formal entry of Nepali workers into the country’s apparel and domestic labour sectors.

The labour agreement had fixed the minimum salary of domestic workers at $300 per month but did not set such a limit for garment sector workers. But the Nepali missions abroad expect the salary mentioned on the demand letter for the garment sector to be $300, representatives of recruiting agencies complain.

“After Jordanian employers faced issues in getting their demand letters approved, a ministry-level decision in January 2018 had paved the way for the appointment of a labour attaché at the Nepalese Honorary Consulate General in Amman, Jordan, to resolve the matter,” said Shah. “It has been over two years now but neither the labour attaché has reached Amman, nor has the issue been resolved.”

The basic monthly salary for a migrant worker at a garment factory is $175 or Jordanian Dinar (JD)125 for eight hours a day, excluding overtime pay. An employer is also responsible for providing other facilities for migrant workers.

"The garment sector is more regulated compared to other sectors in Jordan, given that brands, which these factories cater to, maintain some level of professionalism in the way their workers are recruited and treated during their employment," said Neha Choudhary, a project coordinator at the International Labour Organisation’s Country Office for Nepal.

Nitya Bharati, migration recruitment manager for FSI Worldwide Nepal, said the government not verifying a worker’s demand letter due to lower salary is not justifiable.

“The labour agreement clearly states that the remuneration can be fixed based on ‘collective bargaining.’ The Jordanian trade unions decide salary and other facilities for workers,” said Bharati.

“Garment sector workers also get paid for their boarding and lodging and the employer also covers other social securities. Their salaries also get increased regularly.”

At the time Nepal and Jordan governments signed the labour agreement, the salary was JD117 which increased to JD125 in the following year, said Bharati.

“The salaries of domestic workers and garment sector workers cannot be at the same level because the working hours of garment workers are fixed and the garment sector is better regulated,” said Bharati.

Recruiting agencies’ representatives say a Nepali worker in Jordan’s garment sector can easily earn more than $300 per month, including the facilities and perks that come with the job.

“The government can randomly check the net salary sheet of Nepali workers to get a perspective on how much these workers are paid. Most of the returnee workers have returned satisfied and with their skills enhanced,” said Shah.

"The garment sector in Jordan does not come without its own set of problems. However, it is one of the better options available for Nepali female migrant workers," said Choudhary.

Although Jordan was seen as an alternative country for diversifying labour market for Nepali workers away from a few Gulf countries and Malaysia, the number of Nepalis reaching the country is fairly small. It is estimated that about 8,000 Nepali workers are employed in Jordan’s garment sector.

“The government should have rather encouraged migration to Jordan as it is safer for women as well. Also, when they return, they come back with life-long skills,” said Shah. “There is a lack of proper communication among the government agencies. The concerned ministry can simply forward a copy of the labour agreement and ask to work as per the document.”

The current impasse has resulted in workers’ departure to Jordan further dropping. In 2017-18 fiscal year, as many as 1,944 Nepalis left for Jordan as migrant workers, according to the statistics provided by the Department of Foreign Employment. The number fell to 1,650 in the fiscal year 2018-19.

A high-ranking official at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security told the Post that the government was aware of the ongoing issue and that discussions were underway on how the demand letters could be approved.

“We know that the wages in Jordan are low even for their own workers. But the workers feel safe and happy after reaching there,” said the official, who declined to be identified since he is privy to the ongoing negotiations. “For now, we have said the demand letters should not be stopped. The Labour Ministry has written to the Foreign Ministry about the matter.”