AMMAN – Amnesty International (AI) has called on authorities to “bring an end to the abuse of domestic helpers”, as a senior official said authorities will investigate the claims of the watchdog, reiterating that the government has one a long way in protecting the rights and the safety of the thousands of these workers in Jordan. In a statement obtained by The Jordan Times, Labour Minister Bassem Salem announced a plan to establish a private company to handle recruitment of domestic helpers, with all stakeholders, including civil society organisations concerned with women and human rights partners.
The envisaged company, which would be owned by the General Federation of Trade Unions, is expected to handle the recruitment process in line with best practices and international standards, the minister said.
In a press statement on Wednesday, the London-based organisation claimed”tens of domestic workers in the Kingdom live in bad conditions with many of them forced to work long hours and denied their salaries”.
Many women migrant domestic workers are reported to be routinely beaten by representatives of some recruitment agencies in an attempt to discourage them from running away or from filing complaints against their abusive employers.
Salem said the ministry “reacts positively to any comment from internal or external parties regarding Jordan’s labour market”, stressing that the government has taken several measures to protect this category of guest labourers.
In August, a new amendment to the Labour Law was approved by a Royal Decree under which domestic helpers were included in the legislation.
Under the new amendment, domestic helpers are treated on equal footing with Jordanian workers in terms of medical care, timely payment of wages and subscription to the social security system.
Salem noted that a ministerial committee headed by Interior Minister Eid Fayez is looking into all issues concerning guest labour and is drafting an anti-human trafficking law that will soon be presented to Parliament for endorsement.
Rejecting the report as ignoring the improvements made by the country to the situation of domestic helpers, President of the Domestic Helpers Agencies Association (DHAA) Ahmad Habahbeh said in remarks to The Jordan Times that the legislative amendment was “the first of its kind in the region”.
He noted that the association has successfully handled over 400 complaints over the past four years.
“We managed to solve all reported complaints which included allegations of sexual and physical abuse as well as unpaid salaries.”
Habahbeh said some complaints were also reported by the employers themselves against the workers “who ran away with their boyfriends shortly after their arrival in the Kingdom”.
Furthermore, Habahbeh added that the Labour Minister does not tolerate any misconduct by recruitment agencies and has recently shut down four recruiting agencies for violating the ethics of the profession and for financial infringements.
In a related development, Sri Lankan Ambassador to Jordan Andrayas Wickramachi Mohattala said yesterday the embassy is still providing food and shelter to 68 fellow domestic workers who sought refuge with the embassy some six to seven months ago.
He added that around 30 of these have completed their contracts but cannot leave until their salaries are fully paid by their employers.
“Some of these workers complained about being sexually or physically abused by their employers; others said that they have unpaid salaries for months.
This is a recurring problem that we deal with all the time. The DHAA is not doing enough to protect the domestic helpers rights,” the ambassador told The Jordan Times.
The labour minister said Jordan has been in talks with all countries from where domestic helpers come to settle outstanding issues regarding their citizens employed in the Kingdom.
Labour Ministry records show that around 70,000 domestic helpers work in the Kingdom, including 30,000 Filipinos, 20,000 Indonesians and 35,000 Sri Lankans.
By Hani Hazaimeh
30 October 2008