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    07-Aug-2014

For some domestic workers, labour rights still elusive

 

Imana Gunawan, The Jordan Times

 

AMMAN — The takbir calls of Eid Al Fitr filled the courtyard of a large mansion in Abdoun last Monday.

Walking in, smells of chilli, crackers and braised chicken infuse the air. In one corner, Marpuah, wearing purple head scarf, sat with several other women.

“I like coming here; you get to meet new people,” she said of the Eid celebration at the home of Indonesian Ambassador to Jordan Teguh Wardoyo.

Every year, the embassy holds various Ramadan and Eid events for Indonesian domestic workers residing in Jordan.

For the past six months, Marpuah has been living with more than 30 other women at the embassy’s shelter for domestic helpers. The stories of how each woman got there are as varied as the workers themselves.

Marpuah finished her two-year contract with her employer, and plans to return to Indonesia. She told The Jordan Times that she will be leaving for her home country in a few weeks.

She is one of the lucky ones; not all domestic workers have the chance to return home during the Eid holiday.

For many domestic workers in the Kingdom, time off is one of the many labour rights that is hard to obtain, according to Linda Al Kalash, executive director of Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights, an NGO that supports migrant workers.

Although the government has implemented regulations to secure the rights of domestic helpers, they are hard to enforce, she explained.

“We have regulations specific to domestic workers. You’ll find that we have articles that… give domestic workers rights and a day off to go out of the house,” Kalash said. “But in practice… their employers still don’t want to guarantee this right.”

Unlike Marpuah, Salmah, also a domestic worker from Indonesia, was helping serve the Eid feast at her employer’s house.

Salmah, who requested that only her first name is used for privacy reasons, left the West Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia six years ago to provide for her family.

She works for a Jordanian family in Amman’s Yasmin neighbourhood, the second family she has worked for since arriving in the capital.

“How can I go home?” she told The Jordan Times. “I miss my family.”

According to Kalash, labour laws that guarantee time off are hard to implement because most of the workers live in private homes. “There’s no inspection once [they are] inside the houses,” she said, and, sometimes, the isolation can make them vulnerable to rights violations.

Kalash explained how domestic helpers benefit both their country of origin and destination.

“Their countries regard them as financial resources through their remittances, and their host country looks to them as sources of services.”

Of the one million migrant workers in the country, only 290,000 are documented, according to Kalash. Egyptians make up 68 per cent of the documented workers and typically work in construction or agriculture, while many are employed in private businesses such as cleaning services or in restaurants.

According to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report published last year, Jordan is the only Arab country where domestic workers are protected by national legislation.

Jordan has signed, but not yet ratified, the ILO’s 2011 Domestic Worker Convention and was the first country in the region that created a unified standard contract for domestic workers — in 2003 — and amended the Labour Law to cover them in 2008.

In 2009, Jordan passed a law against human trafficking that criminalised forced labour practices and prosecuted traffickers, established maximum working hours and set minimums for daily and weekly rest, according to Tamkeen.

Yet in reality, these laws have not reaped benefit for everyone.

“My employer now gives me Fridays off… and we can request time off,” said Indonesian worker Jumiroh. She noted that her previous employer refused to give her any breaks.

“I wanted to go home, but [my previous employers] wouldn’t let me,” she said. “They wanted to take my passport.”

According to Imad Shargawi, a lawyer and legal adviser for the Indonesian embassy, the biggest problem for domestic workers in Jordan is unpaid salaries.

“[Agencies] handle the salaries and contracts for two years, but [the employers] hold the girls for nine years, 10 years — every month they say, ‘Tomorrow I give you [your salary], God willing’,” Shargawi said in a recent interview with The Jordan Times.

Due to reports of rights violations and abuse, Indonesia has stopped sending domestic workers to Jordan, Shargawi noted. Other countries, such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka had also stopped sending workers in the past but have since lifted the moratorium.

Arief Hidayat, counsellor for the Indonesian embassy, explained that due to reports of rights violations, Indonesian ambassadors to countries in the Middle East view domestic worker issues with the same concern and have requested their government to set up a special meeting with all stakeholders in Indonesia, to address the issue.

“This issue has been seen as a human trafficking issue, not just a workforce issue,” he told The Jordan Times. “The Indonesian embassy has been coordinating with all concerned institutions in Jordan... to solve the problem.”

Hidayat said the Indonesian government will only lift the moratorium on migrant workers when the concerned countries provide and enforce legislative protection, such as human rights and trafficking laws, to protect migrant workers, noting that other countries also have similar requirements.

However, he stressed the need for a stronger orientation programme for migrants before they depart for their destination countries, citing several recent reports about the non-procedural process of sending Indonesian domestic workers abroad.

“I always tell the workers, ‘Leaving your families to earn money for them is ibada [an act of worship], but ibada without knowledge... is not worth the sacrifice,’” Hidayat said.

 

 

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