[Stop-traffic] News/Jordan: Embassies urge greater policing of agencies that traffic migrant workers

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Jordan: Embassies urge greater policing of agencies that traffic migrant workers
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Mon Feb 05 2001 - 11:22:56 EST

Embassies urge greater policing of agencies that traffic migrant workers
Jordan Times (Amman, Jordan), January 22, 2001

AMMAN, Jordan - Migrant workers, and female migrants in particular, are
vulnerable to abuse and exploitation when working abroad and when they are
unaccounted for, alone and culturally isolated, the stakes are only raised
that something can go wrong.

Most migrant women arriving in Jordan work as domestic workers. Their
typical activities include house cleaning, dish washing, ironing, preparing
food, baby-sitting, nursing the sick at home, and taking care of the elderly.

The exact number of female migrant workers in Jordan is unknown as various
government agencies use different figures. However, the Ministry of
Labour's figures for August 2000, lists a total of 25,656, of which 21,322
are Sri Lankan and 4,334 are Philippine.

These two groups form the vast majority of female domestic workers in Jordan.

However, Jordanian government figures are much lower than the Sri Lankan
and Philippine embassy estimates for the same period. According to their
records, the estimated number stands at 35,000 and 7,000 respectively, a
much larger population than is officially believed.

Charge d'affaires of the Sri Lankan embassy, A.S. Khan, explains the
discrepancy exists because there are many without papers.

Meanwhile, according to Jimmy Calano, senior consular assistant for the
Philippines embassy, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) is
supposed to document all nationals working abroad but illegal recruiters
often instruct migrant workers to identify themselves as tourists when they
arrive in Jordan as workers.

"Our immigration bureau works to regulate departures but if they choose to
lie," says Calano, "they cannot be afforded protection abroad."

Since 1996, the Philippine government limits employment of nationals within
Jordan to specific employers; members of the Royal family, senior
government employees, members of diplomatic missions and UN personnel.

However, workers circumvent these restrictions by falsifying their travel
status and end up working in private homes without regulation or protection.

Because so many choose or are tricked into unregulated work environments,
they are subject to abuse and exploitation.

Calano says there are several Jordanian nationals operating unauthorised
agencies out of the Philippines in the lucrative trade of bringing migrant
workers to the country.

Most workers have little education and in many cases, are illiterate, which
only increases their vulnerability, particularly when it comes to contracts
and agreements.

"Almost invariably, the migrant workers affected are those employed at the
lower end of the skill range and who possess the least financial or
intellectual resources to defend themselves effectively," says a report by
the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Clearly, situations such as these, along with the already cloistered lives
they live as domestic workers, leads to an increased sense of isolation and
alienation and creates a dangerous climate for abuse.

Added to this is the fact that these women live in private homes and are
continually at the mercy of their employers.

A 1996 meeting of the ILO on migration of workers found that in the case of
au pair and domestic workers, "the acquisition of language skills and the
discharge of home-help duties are inextricably mixed and rarely subject to
an employment relationship as envisaged by labour laws and regulations."

Domestic workers are excluded from the provisions of the Labour Law as the
work takes place in private homes. Instead, says Khan, the work environment
is supervised by the police and immigration services but minimum wage and
work hours are not legally defined under this arrangement.

As these foreign workers fail to be protected by labour market regulation,
they are consistently, and unfairly exploited.

While contracts exist outlining the duties and rights of the worker, these
are often not in their language and many are unable to read either English
or Arabic or are often entirely illiterate. Some are unable to read or
write at all.

Often, migrants are held in detention camps by Jordanian authorities
because they are missing visas and proper documentation. Because of the
delinquency of the agency and employers, these women are incarcerated.

When hiring domestic workers, Khan argues the visa and contract are the
responsibility of the employer. "It's not her fault," he says.

Calano says some employers purposely neglect arranging the paperwork in
full knowledge that they can then hold an employee hostage. If they have
any problems or if a worker challenges the terms of employment, all an
employer has to do is contact immigration who will then detain, fine and
deport the worker from the country, usually without being paid.

"[Paperwork] is not their responsibility but they suffer for this," says
Calano, echoing the same concerns as Khan.

According to Calano, there is also a phenomenon of employers pursuing
malicious lawsuits against runaway maids, usually without just cause.

Last year, the Philippine embassy was aware of 15 such incidents in all,
alleging theft against employees. Calano describes this as "harassment" on
the part of the employer, and in all cases, theft was not proven. By
involving their employees in a lengthy legal battle, employers exact their

"The problem is the inconvenience it causes the worker in terms of legal
expenses and repatriation costs," says Calano. Some have had to live in the
embassy for up to two years, he explains, while they wait for the legal
process to unfold. The responsibility for paying penalties levied
overstaying their visas and airfare home then falls to the worker. In some
cases, migrant workers have been stranded in Jordan.

Calano said one such worker, a woman, today lives in the Philippines
embassy in bureaucratic limbo: On the one hand unable to stay in Jordan
while on the other, unable to leave, trapped in a half-life while her case
is processed.

Despite the problems, both embassies stressed their good relations with the
Ministry of Labour and the Immigration Department, adding they continually
work together to improve the situation, but there remains more work to be

The diplomatic missions say they are also understanding of the fact that
any sort of abuse carried out in a private home to which a domestic worker
may be subjected is difficult for any authority or agency to regulate.

Their emphasis, however, is on government policing the agencies themselves
before they are able to channel workers into exploitative situations.

Calano hopes in the near future "to enter into a memorandum of
understanding to govern the deployment and employment of Philippine workers
in Jordan."

At this time, it is unclear whether or not the situation of domestic
workers is improving or deteriorating.

Khan and Calano both see the situation is improving for their nationals.
However, the most recent cases of domestics arrested for alleged murder of
newborn infants does not bode well.

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant
Workers reads: "Appropriate action should be encouraged in order to prevent
and eliminate clandestine movements and trafficking in migrant workers,
while at the same time assuring the protection of their fundamental human

Meanwhile, ILO objectives are to "ameliorate the integration of migrants
and their families," and to call on governments to "formulate and evaluate
policies, to draft legislation or develop procedures, to collect data on
the admission and rights of foreign workers."

Plans are in the works by the United Nations Development Fund for Women,
and similar non-governmental agencies to cooperate with authorities and
further study this problem in Jordan.

At this time they will be able to compile and review the latest data and
determine whether the situation is in fact improving, or deteriorating and
what should be done.

The ongoing aim of such work is to organise the process of employment,
assure the rights of the worker, and minimise the vulnerability to any
future exploitation.

  Jordan Times .
Melanie Orhant

Stop-Traffic Moderator

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