Jordan Times - 14/08/2006
Salem outlines measures to protect workers’ rights in QIZs - Jordan
AMMAN (JT) - Minister of Labour Bassem Salem on Sunday met with US Ambassador to Jordan David Hale and delegates of the Office of the US Trade Representative to outline efforts to safeguard workers’ rights in the country’s Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ).
During a tour of the QIZs, Salem reviewed the role of the ministry in controlling and monitoring the implementation of labour legislation and in ensuring that workers’ rights are fully safeguarded.
He also briefed the delegation on the development of an inspection system to ensure that conditions at the QIZs conform to international standards.
Inspection campaigns in the zones have been intensified in the wake of a report in May by the US National Labour Committee (NLC), which severely criticised violations of workers’ rights in some of the industrial zones.
The report claimed that tens of thousands of foreign labourers were stripped of their passports, trapped in involuntary servitude and forced to work without sleep.
Some labourers, the report said, were forced to work 109 hours a week, including 20-hour shifts.
"The workers received no wages for six months. Workers who fell asleep from exhaustion were struck with a ruler to wake them up," the report said.
The government reacted by issuing its own report in May, confirming some of the allegations, while denying others.
In a follow-up report in June, the NLC acknowledged that "Jordan has made substantial improvements at many factories, but that violations of workers’ rights continue at smaller subcontractors."
"The ministry is ready to cooperate with the Trade Representatives Office and the Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development for further improvement in the field of work inspection standards," Salem told the delegation yesterday.
The minister also reviewed a number of new monitoring measures such as the creation of a hotline for employees to report alleged abuse cases, while stressing the ministry’s willingness to cooperate with US trade representatives and USAID in developing labour inspection standards.
The QIZ agreement with the US, signed in 1997, came out of the 1994 peace treaty with Israel and entitles products produced in the zones to both duty-free and quota-free access to the American market as long as they have a specified Jordanian-Israeli input.
As a result of the QIZ deal and the Jordan-US Free Trade Agreement, signed in December 2001, the country’s exports to the US have soared from a meagre $13 million in 1999 to $1.3 billion in 2005.
There are currently 13 QIZs containing over 50 factories.