JordanÃ¢??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 LabourÃ¢??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.