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Testimony by Tim Waters on the proposed Canada-Jordan FTA

October 18, 2010  |  Share


Tim Waters,
Political Director
United Steelworkers Union

Testimony before the Standing Committee on International Trade
Canada-Jordan Free Trade Agreement

October 18, 2010


My name is Tim Waters and I am political director of the United Steelworkers union.  I want to thank you for this opportunity to appear before this Committee.

The United Steelworkers union originally supported the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement when it was being negotiated in 2000.  It was a decision our union has come to deeply regret, as the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement descended into the trafficking of tens of thousands of foreign guest workers to Jordan, where they were stripped of their passports and all too often held under conditions that could only be described as slave labor.

I have travelled to Jordan and met with hundreds of guest workers, who toil under abusive conditions in Jordan's export factories.  We heard testimony after testimony from workers in several industrial parks, all confirming excessive mandatory overtime, grueling work loads, being shortchanged of their legal wages, deplorable working and living conditions and the routine violation of every labor law in Jordan, not to mention the International Labour Organization's internationally recognized worker rights standards.

Our international President, Leo Gerard, joined USW Canada director Ken Neumann in writing to the Minister of Labor of Jordan on November 30, 2009, raising a number of critical issues with regard to which the guest workers continue to appeal for help.  I am sad to say that to date, more than ten months later, there has been no response from the Minister of Labor.  The tens of thousands of guest workers in Jordan, in effect, still do not have the right to freedom of association, the right to organize a union or to bargain collectively.

The issuance by the Government of Jordan of necessary work and residency permits to the guest workers is all too often subject to lengthy delays, which in effect curtail the freedom of movement of the guest workers, leaving them trapped in the industrial parks.  Guest workers who are stopped outside the industrial parks without these residency and work permits can be imprisoned.

Moreover, when the guest workers purchased their contracts to work in Jordan-which can cost them several thousand dollars-they were guaranteed free and decent housing, food and health care.  Across Jordan, factory management is illegally deducting food costs from the workers' wages, while providing little or no health care.  Forced overtime continues to be the norm.

As the recent cases of the IBG and Classic factories in Jordan illustrate, thousands of workers continue to be stripped of their passports-which is a human rights crime-while being forced to work 16 to 23 hour shifts, seven days a week!

Given the continued abuse and lack of rights suffered by the tens of thousands of guest workers across Jordan, the United Steelworkers union asks that the Government of Canada immediately suspend any further steps on the proposed Canada-Jordan free trade agreement until the Jordanian Government and Ministry of Labor can concretely demonstrate that the legal rights of the guest workers are finally being respected and assured.

Based on all the data available, it is our conviction that the Jordanian Government is failing to enforce its own labor laws-or the ILO's internationally recognized worker rights standards.

I am attaching a copy of the letter Ken Neumann and Leo Gerard sent to Jordan's Minister of Labor in November 2009.

I want to thank you again for asking the USW to testify, and I look forward to answering any of your questions.



Testimony by Charles Kernaghan on the proposed Canada-Jordan FTA (October 18, 2010)

NLC's report on Classic Fashion (November 10, 2010)

An Update of the International British Garment Factory (October 18, 2010)

USW's Press Release (October 18, 2010)

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