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30,000 Guest Workers May Win Rights as U.S. & Jordan Governments scramble to end violations

May 18, 2006  |  Share

The NLC is in Jordan now for meetings with Government, NGO labor and women's groups and the workers themselves.

Following the release of our report and the NY Times article on May 3, more than 30,000 foreign guest workers employed in Jordan's export factories are close to winning their rights. For the first time in recent memory, the factories are now shutting down at 8:30, 9:00, 9:30 p.m.--whereas before they were routinely working past midnight. Workers have been told they will receive a wage increase next month. In some factories the mandatory hourly production goals have actually been lowered. Workers are now receiving their ID cards so they can leave the factory compound without fear of arrest. The factory owners are talking a different line now, explaining to the workers that they will continue to improve conditions.

The NLC is in Jordan now for meetings with Government, NGO labor and women's groups and the workers themselves.

We will continue to demand that the workers' passports be immediately returned, that they be paid the millions of dollars they are legally owed, and that they have the right to organize. Workers must also have the freedom to move to different factories.

After the report came out we met with U.S. Ambassador-at-large for Human Trafficking, who is now questioning the Jordanian Government regarding the confiscation of workers' passports, human trafficking, abuse and punitive deportations. In Washington, DC, we met with representatives of the U.S. State Department, the Labor Department and the US Trade Representative's office, as well as with members of Congress. Several important members of the House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter demanding that the Bush Administration investigate what went wrong with the US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, and that none of the Bangladeshi workers who spoke with us during our research be punished in any way. We also had a long meeting with Jordan's Ambassador to the U.S.

Some of the largest U.S. apparel companies and retailers--including Wal-Mart, Jones Apparel (Gloria Vanderbilt), Sears, Target and others--have admitted to serious violations in Jordan. One decent company person told us that 95% of their contract plants in Jordan are in serious violation of Jordanian wage and hour laws. Factories in Jordan producing goods for duty-free export to the U.S. have routinely underpaid wages and overtime while keeping false hour and pay records. More than a dozen major U.S. companies are writing a letter urging that Jordan do more to bring their country's factories into compliance with the law. Corporate monitors are swarming all over Jordan.

The discussion around Jordan sweatshops is also spilling over and impacting on the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar & Bahrain--and in fact on future free trade agreement negotiations the U.S. is pursuing.

We have been told we can go anywhere we want in Jordan with no restrictions, and that we can talk with whomever we want. We are bringing 1,000 popular education flyers with us translated into Bengali and Mandarin, listing steps the government and companies should take to end the abuses and summarizing Jordan's labor law so the workers will know their rights.

We hope to come away with some sort of agreement with the government and private sector in Jordan. It may take some time, but it seems clear to us that whatever happens, the tens of thousands of guest workers are better off now than they were before, and hopefully this is just the beginning.

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