JORDAN: Minimum wage rise not enough, say labour unions.
A government promise earlier this week to increase the minimum wage has not pacified workers’ demands for more pay, badly needed to cope with recent hikes in fuel prices.
While the wage rise is “better than nothing”, according to General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions (GFTU) President Mazen al-Maaytah, “it still isn’t enough to help workers face recent increases in the cost of living.”
On the occasion of Labour Day on 1 May, Labour Minister Bassem Salem announced an increase of the equivalent of US $21 over the current US $133 monthly minimum wage for workers, to become effective in June. “The measure was taken to support the workforce, which is facing harsh economic conditions,” said Salem.
According to labour leaders, the monthly minimum wage should be no less than the equivalent of US $420. Given the state of the national economy, however, al-Maaytah said that demanding such an amount would have been “unrealistic”. Agreement on the wage rise was reached through negotiations between private and public sector leaders as well as labour chiefs.
Jordan’s Minimum Wage Law came into force in 1999, setting the minimum salary at the equivalent of US $112. In January 2003, this was increased by the equivalent of US $7, and again by another US $14 last year.
Government and union officials expect the new measure to encourage Jordanian citizens to replace some of the 320,000 documented foreign labourers currently working in the kingdom. Most of these are from Egypt, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and work in unskilled sectors such as construction and agriculture.
Lawyers dealing with migrant workers’ issues, however, question this assumption. “I don’t understand why Jordanians would start taking jobs in sectors like agriculture or domestic service,” said lawyer Firas Ta’amneh. “Neither of these falls under the Labour Law and, therefore, neither the minimum wage nor the social security benefits apply.”
According to union figures, the national labour force is currently 1.2 million strong. While unemployment is officially estimated at 13.5 percent, unofficial estimates put the figure as high as 27 percent.
Despite claims that most businesses are complying with wage laws, workers and labour leaders say many employers avoid paying the legal minimum salary. “Out of 100 workers, 10 or 12 receive the minimum wage”, said al-Maaytah.
Earlier this year, the labour ministry issued 686 warnings and fines to institutions and companies found violating the Labour Law. Penalties for violators can be as high as the equivalent of US $70 per worker. If the violation is repeated, the penalty is doubled, according to the law.
Jordan is no stranger to labour disputes. On Wednesday, the Arab Potash Company finally agreed to demands for more pay made by striking workers, according to English-language daily the Jordan Times.