Unemployment & The Culture Of Shame

Jordanâ??s unemployment rate has risen to 15.5 per cent, while jobless citizens continue to shun menial jobs as a result of low wages and a culture of shame, an official report shows.

According to the Ministry of Labourâ??s 2005 annual report, the number of people without jobs reached 200,000, including approximately 144,000 males and 55,000 females. The figures represent a two per cent increase in unemployment on 2004 statistics.

The report also reveals that the number of guest workers in the country has also risen compared to 2004 figures.

In 2005, around 26,000 work permits were issued by the ministry to foreign workers, who are employed in the service (31.4 per cent), agriculture (27.2 per cent), industrial (25.5 per cent) and construction (15.9 per cent) sectors. The report attributes the increase in foreign workers to lengthy grace periods granted by the ministry for illegal workers to obtain work permits.

It also criticises Jordanians for refusing to take up jobs performed by foreign workers. According to the report, Jordanians continue to shun menial jobs due to low pay and a culture of shame, which is widespread among citizens. [Jordan Times]

I don’t trust any of these figures. I’m pretty sure the numbers are much higher but even if they are correct I don’t consider a person who makes 80JDs a month, whose employer may or may not pay him for that month, actually “employed”. At least not by any of my own economic standards.

As for the so called “culture of shame”, it reminded me of a situation I experienced about 5 years ago or so. My sister parked her car in the loading area of the Safeway at the 7th circle. I stayed in the car while she ran down to get something quickly. While I waited a young man, perhaps in his early 20’s, approached me. He was wearing the Safeway uniform assigned to those whose job it is to basically wait in loading area and help customers carry their bags to their parked cars a few feet away. He noticed a miniature Canadian flag that my sister has wrapped around the driver’s seat Sun visor. He asked if I lived there and I said yes. Then he asked if it was easy to find work there. I told him it depends on what one would want to do. He said, “Well how about someone like me?” Thinking that this is a guy who isn’t exactly in the high ranks of the service industry I told him sure, you can always find jobs like dishwashing or catering, that sort of thing. He was shocked at what I said and acted like I insulted him saying: “me wash dishes?”

The “cultural of shame” is incredibly absurd and I cannot comprehend why it exists. Were all Jordanians millionaires at one point and due to some unexpected war we became a third world country over night? Is this a small chapter in our history that I wasn’t aware of? One of the problems seems to stem from the existence of foreign workers and the sort of typecasting which occurs. For example, it would be insulting to suggest to a Jordanian he should work in construction because that job is for “ma9arwa” (Egyptians) and if you look at all these construction sites 99.99% of the workers are in fact Egyptians. Which begs the question: are they simply doing the work that we refuse to do or are they doing the work because we cannot be seen doing it. In other words, if all Egyptian construction workers were shipped back to Egypt would Jordanians fill the vacancies?

I’m inclined to believe the answer would be yes. I don’t see how a “culture of shame” can dominate the lives of people to extent that they would refuse work on the basis of shame. Honour and dignity is obviously a big thing, but the question I ask myself is where is the dishonour in working these jobs? For many they would rather not work at all than have work such jobs, where as from where I’m standing I see it dishonourable not to be able to support one’s family out of shame. Is it worth dying for?

These people of course live within an environment, the culture is widespread, so even if one were forced to work such jobs he would be subject to the general environment that would look down on him for doing so. That’s something that needs to be changed.

My father once found a family in the Jordan Valley area who complained to him that there was a lack of work for their eldest son, so he decided to bring him to Amman and have him work as a guard in our apartment building. Every building pretty much has one and their jobs are not really to guard anything so much as it is to fetch things from the supermarket and clean the place up. Comparatively it’s an easy job that tends to pay well. The guy lasted a few weeks and was gone. He clashed with everyone in the building who asked him to do certain jobs which he considered beneath him. And for the people who live in these buildings, they’re used to people they can trample on, who will nod his head to anything they say.

This same mentality goes for factory employers who regard foreign workers as hassle free and can pay them whenever they like and with whatever wages they like, which makes them better than the local worker…

The report also said ministry inspectors had issued 9,444 warnings to institutions and companies found in violation of the Labour Law. The 1996 law stipulates that guest workers must obtain a valid work permit to be legally hired in the country. Employers must give priority to Jordanians and can only employ non-Jordanians if a local replacement is not found.

However, many employers have failed to renew the work permits of their employees in violation of the Labour Law.

One of the ways would be to round up these foreign workers and send them home. Free trade yes, but I hate the idea of a third world country with high unemployment getting workers from another third world country with high unemployment to work for them; it’s fuzzy economics to me. Also, plenty, if not the majority, are illegally in Jordan. I’ve seen the police chasing them every now and then, with groups of Egyptians running down back streets and jumping over walls. This isn’t exclusive to one nationality. But the police know that they’ve been sent on an impossible mission mostly because the government is not really serious at deporting illegal workers and in most cases they would be back in the country in a week.

Government funded training workshops, youth job programs, employment resource centers are all other possibilities to help people find jobs. We have some of these in play now but I find them so low key that I can’t help but wonder if they’re helping any one.

Increasing minimum wage is good. It will be raised by 15 JDs soon to have it stand at 110 JDs a month. Suffice to say the increase is “good” but not enough. We probably won’t see another one for quite some time and I don’t know if the raise was actually done to encourage people to work or if the government is just adjusting wages for inflation. Honestly, I think that 15JDs probably represents how much more money is needed today to live like one lived 5 years ago. The prices of most things, including the staples, have increased dramatically in this time period, especially with the mad rush of the war on Iraq.

Either way I see the government doing very very little to solve this problem, and it’s a huge problem, especially if you have a ton of foreign workers sending all their earnings outside the country, spending very little and consuming the essentials like water.


  • I totally agree with you that this is a huge problem. However; I have to argue that this scenario might have been more correct about 5 years ago when Jordanians really rejected all these jobs and they were mainly for foreign workers, but now; I see the working in all sectors … technicians, drivers, construction and even in cleaning … so I believe that we are getting out of the shame culture .. although slowly

    What I see as a real threat now is not these small jobs that do not require education; the real threat comes from the jobs that require higher education and you see them filled by Iraqis because they accept less salaries .. leaving graduated Jordanians jobless …

    Those educated people would want to work in something related to their education, and when they don’t find something … they wouldn’t go work as technicians or cleaners or guards because that would be insulting to them and the whole time they spent studying hard to graduate .. so it is far deeper than just refusing to work because of cultural image … trust me … people would do anything to get a stable job but it is the employers who don’t want to pay ..

    The percentages or nymbers mentioned in the report should clarify the status and education levels of those unemployed so that they can work on the solution in a well planned manner … not just throw the numbers and blame Jordanians for rejecting jobs because I don’t think that this is the real issue here

    And JD110??? Please!!!
    At the living expense we have in Jordan, that’s a week worth living for a simple person who is only living by essentials … how about if he has a family … Now THIS IS a big problem and needs to take priority..

  • I have to really commend you for taking up this issue and discussing although I wouldn’t necessarily reach the same conclusions you do. There are plenty of Jordanians working as security guards making much less than what a construction worker makes. Maybe if the government forced contractors to improve safety and working standards for their employees it would encourage to join…..who knows.

    Despite that, I think you’re doing a great job in bringing up a serious topic for discussion. I also really like you website layout.

    Keep up the good work!

  • khalidah,

    so I believe that we are getting out of the shame culture .. although slowly

    yes, I can agree with that.

    they wouldnâ??t go work as technicians or cleaners or guards because that would be insulting to them and the whole time they spent studying hard to graduate

    wherever you are there are always graduates without work. even in Canada and the US you see graduates working such jobs until they can find something entry-level. they have to pay the bills.

    as for the report, I think it was only highlighting one of the biggest problems, which is to say the opposite of what you said is also true: dont blame the government for everything. it’s a mixed situation that requires an approach from all directions, both governmental policy and social changes.

    also, I disagree with the “weeks’ worth” statement. you’d be surprised how many families manage to survive on 110 jds a month. this is not to say they live terribly well.


    Ahmad, thanks. yes you’re right, I think I was just trying to talk about one single aspect of the problem and not the entire problem as a whole, because obviously in the grand scheme of things the culture of shame is only a small part of it. It is a problem consisting of several factors and requires several solutions. Improving safety and working standards, as you pointed out, is one of many things that can be done but it has to go hand in hand with everything else. I’m tired of “solutions” that seem to take the approach of attacking only one aspect. It’s like a sinking boat and we feel satisfied covering up only one of the holes: it doesn’t solve the problem.

    thanks for the interesting comment!

  • “wherever you are there are always graduates without work. even in Canada and the US you see graduates working such jobs until they can find something entry-level. they have to pay the bills.”

    True. The difference is that it is possible to lmake a decent living ( by decent I mean, yo ucan pay the bills, the rent, get your kids everything they need, even go out and be comfortable spending on non-essentials). Construction jobs, service jobs.. and so on pay pretty well in general, in the first world.

    But anyway the root of the problem is that there are so many aspects to consider in order to begin to solve a question, and unfortunately these aspects involve the government really making it a priority to help its “lower working class” citizens improve their quality of life, their income, their education… which does not seem to be of any interest to them. Unfortunately, as obvious as it is, we need to remind ourselves that there is a huge amount of money floating in Jordan, now more than ever, but it is not in the interest of any one to improve anything other than the size of their pockets.

    I don’t understand why on earth would they cut the funding to public universities if that’s not the case. We need education, more than we need jobs. That is so rediculous.

    Construction jobs pay less only because this is the way it has been for so long… and that is why all the foreigners are still working most of them. However, it makes no sense if one thinks about it. There is so much money in construction. now more than ever! It is up to the government to hold up rules regarding minimum wages for construction workers… but we are so used to labelling them as “3ommal bina” that we don’t even know the meaning of that job anymore. In Canada and the US construction workers are considered to be well off… as much as any other trade related kob (plumbing, carpenting.. etc). Why is that? Why doesn’t it change in Jordan? Jordan is one of the countries where services and trade are ALWAYS in demand… which would mean that there should be many vacanceis (it only makes sense). But no. There is damage in the system from within, and until that is dealt with, there will always just be that deplomatic approach to solving problems with “donating” money to the poor. How ridiculous.

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