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Integrated Regional Information Network: June 18, 2006

July 17, 2006  |  Share

Jordan: Government Campaign Aims to Root Out Worker Abuse in QIZs

18 June 2006


AMMAN, 18 June (IRIN) - More than 100 Bangladeshi expatriates were withdrawn from a factory in the Sahab Qualified Industrial Zone (QIZ) after the discovery of cases of abuse by their employer, a labour ministry official said on Sunday.

"Inspectors had warned the management to rectify their legal status or they would risk losing their workers," said Khawlah Hassan, a consultant for QIZ affairs at the ministry. "But they didn't heed our warnings, so we took the workers away from them." Khawlah Hassan added that the labourers had been relocated to another factory on Saturday, where they were working in "a very good environment".

The Bangladeshi workers had long complained of delayed payments and poor working conditions - typical grievances among workers in Jordan's industrial zones. According to Khawlah Hassan, all of the country's 104 factories currently operating in the QIZs could face the same fate if they are found in violation of labour laws.

"We've launched a random inspection campaign to make sure all factories don't abuse staff," Khawlah Hassan explained, adding that the drive was part of a nationwide campaign to clamp down on workers' abuse, particularly in the industrial zones. She went on to point out that "the majority of factories inspected registered instances of abuse".

A report issued by the National Labour Committee in May pointed to "substandard" conditions in more than 25 of Jordan's approximately 100 clothing factories operating within the zones. The report went on to cite numerous cases of abuse, including 20-hour shifts, late payments (or none at all) and, in some cases, physical abuse and rape. "In some incidents, workers who fell asleep from exhaustion were struck with rulers to rouse them," the study noted.

Earlier this week, Minister of Trade and Industry Sharif Zobi was quoted in the international press as saying that, "Under no circumstances can we allow any such violations of labour rights or human rights"to take place on Jordanian soil". Zobi went on to tell factories to "shape up or ship out", while admitting that past inspection regimes appeared to have "failed miserably".

Fathallah Emrani, president of the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile Industries, welcomed the initiative, but expressed concern that the campaign might eventually lose momentum. "What's important is that the government keeps up with its regular inspections," said Emrani.

It is estimated that 44,000 workers are employed in the QIZs, almost half of whom are from Sri Lanka, China or other Asian countries. A trade agreement - signed by the US, Jordan and Israel in 1997 - designated certain areas of the kingdom as "qualified zones", from which finished products can enter the US market tax-, duty- and quota-free.

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