SECTION of DOCUMENT:
[page-number of print-ed.: 62]
The Jordanian Labour Movement Facing Contemporary Challenges
The Jordanian Labour Movement is entering the new century while confronted with new challenges. Some of these are a continuation of those faced in the previous decade. Others are completely new, and stem in principle from the social and economic impacts that will result from Jordan's entrance into international partnership agreements and the increasing involvement in globalisation.
A thorough look at the primary problems and challenges now considered as tests for the Jordanian Labour Movement has to be taken. An analysis is also needed of what is required in terms of reconsideration, repair of the union structure, and rehabilitation of union leaderships, without which it will be very difficult for the Labour Movement to face those challenges.
1. The Economic Crisis and its Impact on Demands-oriented Struggles
The Jordanian economy has been in an extended period of decline of growth rates. The beginnings of this period date back to the early 80s, which coincided with the decline of oil prices. The oil price fall reflected on Jordan in several ways including the reduction of the value of aid funds donated by the Arab oil producing countries, the drop in their demand for immigrant Labour, and decreasing exports to Gulf country markets. The eruption of the Jordanian debt crisis in 1988 and the resort of the government to the International Monetary Fund to reschedule debt crowned this stage, with the Fund imposing strict austerity through the Structural Adjustment Program.
The eruption of the Second Gulf War after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 aggravated the deteriorating economic situation. Because of refusing to join the international alliance opposing Iraq, while maintaining its close ties with it, Jordan was subjected to isolation by the Gulf states. Those countries expelled hundreds of thousands of expatriates who returned to
[page-number of print-ed.: 63]
Jordan. That created tremendous pressure on Jordans resources and basic services, and aggravated unemployment. Since then, the structural adjustment program that was frozen during the crisis and the Gulf War has been re-implemented.
The return of the expatriates to Jordan also contributed to rejuvenating economic growth, due to spending their savings and undertaking some investments, especially in real estate. However, economic growth soon declined again to very low rates, especially in the last five years. This in turn led to retaining of high unemployment rates, augmenting poverty, and accelerated the devaluation of income of middle and lower categories of workers.
Thus it was that during the 1990s the number of Labour disputes increased. Nevertheless, the cases that were settled by collective agreement remained limited, including only a very small percentage of the workforce. Parallel to that, the deluge of migrant workers continued to be a threat to job opportunities and wage levels of Jordanian workers, keeping in mind that the majority of the migrant Labour force is of a low educational and professional level, fit for hard manual Labour with low wages.
On the other hand, the Jordanian government intensified privatisation of public sector institutions, resulting in the sale of some of these to the private sector or in resorting to a strategic partner who started to play a primary role in formulating policies of privatised companies. This resulted in the dismissal of workers, reduction of their privileges, or the danger of the discharge of scores of employees, either now or in the future. It must be kept in mind that the privatisation process will encompass varied vital sectors like air transport, phosphate, potash, and many other major companies.
A quick review of the most significant Labour disputes during the past few years shows that they were caused by the following reasons:
However, tensions apparent to the public because they take place in sizable economic institutions are the tip of the iceberg, only a small part of which is apparent. The majority of employees in the country work in small or medium sized firms where daily dismissals take place, or where Labour is compelled to work for modest wages and limited privileges.
At the same time, the General Federation of Trade Unions, as represented by the Executive Committee and the Central Council of the Federation, plays a limited role, almost unworthy of mention, in supporting the member trade unions of the General Federation in Labour disputes. Usually, these bodies limit themselves to listening to the trade union representatives' reports during their meetings, leaving each trade union to manage the negotiation processes that concern it. This situation differs from the Federation's role during the 1970s and the 80s, when the Federation used to exert all its capabilities directly in supporting the member trade unions during Labour disputes and negotiations.
Problems surfaced with respect to the living standards of the working class in general. Examples of these are the rise in cost of medical services for
[page-number of print-ed.: 65]
workers or their families, the problem of providing adequate housing for workers, and definition of a minimum wage. Immense Labour pressure was exerted recently to activate Article 52 of the Labour Law, which mandates the formation of a committee to study these issues, to be formed by the Cabinet upon a recommendation of the Minister of Labour. The committee is to be composed of an equal number of representatives from the Ministry of Labour, employers and workers.
2. Labour Legislation
Labour Law Number 8 of 1996 and the Social Security Law
In 1996, the New Labour Law was issued replacing the law of 1960 and its amendments. The Ministry of Labour had already prepared a draft of a new Labour Law in 1980, under the supervision of an expert from the International Labour Organization, but this draft law was never approved.
The Labour Movement received the new Labour Law with clear reservations. The leadership of the General Federation of Trade Unions submitted objections to about twenty of its 142 articles distributed over twelve sections. The objections and requests for modification concentrated on the following points:
[page-number of print-ed.: 66]
Unions and lawyers insist on demanding the activation of the legal articles through regulations, decisions, and directives that guarantee the implementation of the Labour Law. In particular, they insist on those related to general safety and health, and monitoring women's, children's, juveniles', and migrant workers' Labour, in addition to ensuring adherence to conditions of migrant worker employment, in terms of acquiring work permits and working in the restricted professions allowed to them.
On the other side, unions are calling for the amendment of the Social Security Law issued in 1978. This law was implemented in practice in 1980. Within the context, it is noted that the two most important types of insurance provided for by the law are not activated and not covered. These two types are health insurance for workers and their families, and unemployment insurance. Application of social security is limited to old age, disability, and death. As for health insurance, only large institutions provide it for their employees in return for a fee.
Likewise, it is noticeable from the application of the Social Security Law that most regulated institutions are not adhering to registration of their employees in the Social Security Fund. Some employers are not adhering to transferring the premiums retained from their employee wages to the Social Security Corporation Fund. Add to that, some employers do not declare the actual wages of workers, intending to minimize deductions they owe from worker wages. (Employers' contribution equals 8% of worker wages, while they deduct 5% from workers wages.)
Most important of all trade union objections to the Social Security Law is the rate upon which pension salaries are calculated. Clause B of Article 43 states that the calculation of the pension salary is based on one part of fifty of the average monthly pay of the insured during the last two years, whereas unions demand that salaries be calculated on the basis of one part out of 36.
[page-number of print-ed.: 67]
Generally, Labour trade unions and lawyers are demanding the introduction of the following amendments to the Social Security Law:
In this regard, the Cabinet referred in December 2000 an amended draft of the Social Security Law to the House of Representatives for speedy endorsement. This was done in response to the Labour Movement, which has expressed annoyance by delay in forwarding amendments to the parliament.
It is noticeable that the amendments by the government to the Social Security Law have expanded the umbrella of social security to include self-employers and the family members of employers. The amendments also allowed Jordanian citizens working abroad to join the Social Security Fund.
[page-number of print-ed.: 68]
Beside that, the amendment entitled heirs of workers deceased due to work injury to acquire 60% of their salary that is covered by the Social Security. This is a right never before included in the law. The amended law has also decreased the entitlement condition of old age retirement to a contribution period of 60 months instead of 120 months of the required 180 contributions. The amendment discarded the condition of continuous contribution.
The draft amendments responded positively to trade union demands. Pension salary calculation became 1/40 instead of 1/50 of the salary. The law introduced an early retirement age of 45 years, and raised the period of participation from 15 to 18 years.
The amendment also issued special regulations for investment of capital of the Social Security Corporation Fund, through which a specialized investment organization is to be established. The organization will be independent from the Social Security Board, allowing it to formulate an annual investment plan and to employ distinguished expertise in the field of investment.
Still, the amendments have ignored the expansion of the applied insurance and did not allude to health insurance or the unemployment insurance for workers covered by the regulations of the Social Security Law. Granted, these two demands are difficult due to insufficiency of the capital of the Social Security Fund. However, the question remains until when will these two types of insurance (health and unemployment) be ignored, and when will the Social Security Corporation be prepared to implement them?
3. The Labour Movement and its Relation to Government and Civil Society
After the Labour movement passed through several phases of conflict and confrontation with government hegemony, today it is in a stage characterized by subordination to government policies, combined with the increasing marginalization of the role of the Labour movement in political life, decline of its influence among the ranks of the working class, and its isolation from civil society.
[page-number of print-ed.: 69]
The subordination of the General Federation of Trade Unions raises many new questions in the present circumstances. This subordination, generally long sought after by the government during the circumstances of conflict with the radical opposition, does not seem today to be of relevance from the objective point of view. With the increasing weakness of the opposition, the end of the Cold War, the retreat of leftist bodies and the diminishing attraction of communist ideology in the region and the world, union subordination to the government seems to be a burden rather than an advantage.
As of the early 1970s, the government-union relationship has acquired a flagrant security character. The General Intelligence Service created a special department for Labour trade unions. The Ministry of Labour used to implement its policies toward the trade unions on the inspiration of this department. Despite change in the political climate in the country, the trade unions are still managed with the mentality of the decade of the 1970s.
The security interference in trade union affairs during that period explains the nature of inflamed struggle between the government and the supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). These supporters had strong influence in the Labour movement, in addition to the important influence of the rest of the leftist and nationalist factions within the Labour trade unions. The government employed its iron fist to confront the security threat against vital industries. It executed three workers, supporters of the PLO, who planted explosive charges in the Ruseifah Phosphate Mines. However, even after the disappearance of this kind of threat, the government was careful to remove all radical and politically mistrusted elements" from trade unions related to vital industries like electricity, petroleum refining, phosphates and cement. Generally, the authorities supported the management of major companies in resisting the establishment of union organizations. The Cement Factory in Fuheis is considered a flagrant example of this conduct. The management of the company continued to resist the presence of a Labour trade union for cement workers for several decades. It used the help of the army and security forces to disperse strikes and to destroy attempts to achieve union organization in this company.
Generally, as of the early 1970s, the government prevented the organizing of strikes that might paralyse vital industries like electricity, petroleum re-
[page-number of print-ed.: 70]
fining, and major mining firms. The government employed means of pressure and compulsion on the trade unions (including detention or threat of detention) in order to reach solutions for Labour disputes with management of companies.
In the mid-1970s, soon after the leftist and the Arab nationalist groups regained their positions in trade union elections, the government started to re-organize the trade unions. Some it merged, while it excluded other trade unions, like the Union of United Nations Relief and Works Agency Workers and Employees, from the framework of the union movement. Because of this re-organization process, the number of trade unions decreased to 17. This in turn led the representation size of the left-oriented trade unions that are independent from the government to drop. It also tipped the scale in favour of union leaderships loyal to the government, through increasing the number of their representatives on the Central Council of the General Federation of Trade Unions, which elects the Executive Committee of the Federation.
Despite the leadership of the General Federation remaining mostly within the hands of unions loyal to the government, the leftists and Arab nationalist factions, and the cadres connected to the PLO, still enjoyed strong influence in the Central Council. They could still exert their pressures on the leadership of the General Federation from inside the Council (and from outside when they boycotted its sessions). This pushed the leadership to follow policies that are more balanced and to the attempt to mediate between government pressures and opposition forces pressures. Due to this, the General Federation of Trade Unions was largely able to maintain a reasonable level of union performance. From the political perspective, the General Federation enjoyed the confidence of the government and was of loyal and moderate character. At the same time, from the perspective of Labour interests, it understood the demands-oriented pressures and provided them with a general union umbrella, while the leadership of the General Federation was careful to interfere directly in large disputes and tried to resolve them through negotiation before they reached the strike stage.
[page-number of print-ed.: 71]
However, the equilibrium pillars of the union policies of the Federation soon collapsed as a result of the death or banishment of experienced union leaders who had been, to a certain extent, loyal to the government, and had maintained the relative independence of the Labour movement. This is the case of some experienced unionists, the likes of Shaher al-Majali and Sami Hasan Mansour. Soon, a new generation of union leaders replaced them, who were less innately immune to resisting direct government interference in Labour movement affairs.
Therefore, the 80s and 90s witnessed a new phase during which the role of the General Federation retreated and lost the scale that it represented during the 1970s. The following developments contributed to paving the way for government hegemony over the union Labour movement:
[page-number of print-ed.: 72]
and ideological backgrounds of their leaderships, many of these trade unions remained governed by artisan unions' traditions, which were pre-industrial. The unions did not open their doors to include new groups of modern industry workers. Instead, unions remained confined to a limited ratio of organized workers in some institutions with traditional loyalty to union leadership. Likewise, the organizational structures of these trade unions remained simple in formation, most of them without branches and not spread in other cities outside Amman.
Preventing leadership renewal in the trade unions was the overpowering strength of ideological, political and personal loyalty to the leaders of many trade unions. Thus, the trade unions strong in leftist and Arab nationalist influences suffered as well from negative phenomena similar to the trade unions led by unions loyal to the government. Many of those unions strong in leftist and Arab nationalist influences lacked democracy and witnessed manipulated elections. Banishment policies were sometimes used against the other forces to maintain a monopoly of a single political current in union leadership and to exclude others.
The end of the Cold War, the collapse of the USSR and the retreat of the pan-Arab system accompanied a wave of splits that overtook many opposition parties and left traces in the trade unions. Accordingly, these parties influence in the unions faltered.
Leadership formation of the General Federation of Labour Trade Unions represented the resultant of these factors. New leaderships appeared who lacked political background. This was instead of the experienced leaderships that had directed many of the trade unions, who despite being described as right wing, were at the same time endowed with a Labour constituency, were of original union backgrounds, and had a spontaneous tendency towards Labour concerns. Some of these new leaderships have previous union credit and traditional influence on their Labour basis, but they are not completely immune to government pressures or to corruption. Hence, they soon entered internal struggles for the leadership positions of the Federation, searching for privileges and attempting to use these positions in the service of their personal interests.
[page-number of print-ed.: 73]
On the opposite side, the influence of forces independent from the government declined within many trade unions. Hence, the influence of the leftist forces became confined to a very limited number of the trade unions (Bank and Insurance Workers, and Textile Workers). The traditional influence of the PLO supporters shrank completely, while the influence of the Arab nationalist forces became only symbolic in some other trade unions. Thus, the organizations of the General Federation were not subject to pressure of the independent Labour force with effective influence. In turn, leftist and independent union figureheads participated in the leadership positions of the General Federation through agreement with the forces controlling the Federation. This resulted in decreasing the space for criticism in the Labour movement and consequently in the decline of independence of the General Federation and of the pluralism and diversity of the Labour movement.
This structural transformation in the Labour movement explains the orientation of the General federation since its conference in 1994. Such an orientation seeks to adopt equal representation criteria for trade unions in the Executive Committee and the General Council, to lean towards centralization of union actions in the hands of the Executive Committee, and to keep attempting to make all trade unions duplicates of the Federation through imposing a unified constitution on them.
The subordination of the Federation to the government during the 1990s is obvious in several hot issues. Perhaps the most prominent of these are:
[page-number of print-ed.: 74]
On the other hand, the Labour movement witnessed during the last decade an increasing isolation from the rest of the organizations of civil society, resulting in lack of any joint activity between the Labour movement and public federations, professional unions and political parties. On the contrary, the trade union leadership supported government positions confronting several civil society organization actions. Some examples are supporting the call for participation in the 1997 parliamentary elections and rejection of the trade unions and opposition parties call for boycott. Furthermore, the leadership refused to join activities opposed to normalization with Israel. It was silent toward the government retreat from democratic gains, like the repeated amendment of the Press Law. In general, a joint stance or activity between the General Federation of the Labour Trade Unions and other public organizations is seldom encountered.
On the occasions where the professional unions and opposition parties sought to convene a national conference for reconciliation, an action that aimed to put pressure on government policies and to confront the retreat from the democratic process, the preparatory committee of the above mentioned conference refused participation of the General Federation in preparatory efforts or in its proceedings.
In summary, the General Federation that had played an active role in the general national public frameworks, side by side with the Professional Associations, public federations and opposition parties, became classified by the latter as a conservative force and as a subordinate of the government.
The General Federation had played an important role in pressuring the government, and had participated in formulating policies related to the Labour force, Labour market, wages, and Labour legislation. However, its influence on the government and employers became completely marginal. The voice of the Labour movement is scarcely heard except through some statements in the media. Although the Federation enjoys representation in many institutions like Social Security, Employment, Training, and the Economic Consultative Committee, its influence on the policies of these institutions and committees remains limited, as it lacks real independence, and a proper Labour mandate through free and competitive elections.
[page-number of print-ed.: 75]
4. The Labour Movement and Its Regional and International Relations
Since its establishment at the beginning of the 1950s, the Jordanian Labour movement played a vital role calling for the establishment of an Arab Confederation for Labour trade unions. The movement contributed to the establishment of this Confederation in 1956, together with the Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian Trade Unions. The Jordanian General Federation of Labour Trade Unions remained an active member in the International Confederation of Arab Labour Trade Unions until the early 1970s. The September 1970 bloody confrontations between the Jordanian state and the Palestinian Resistance Forces, and the following dissolution of the Executive Committee of the General Federation and the appointment of a temporary Executive Committee, led to the banishment of the Jordanian Labour Movement from Arab and many other international trade unions.
By the beginning of the 1990s, the General Federation had recovered its membership in the International Confederation of Arab Labour Trade Unions and in all sectoral Labour federations, and had become active in its framework. Table 5 presents the Federation and Labour trade unions membership in the international and Arab Confederations and organizations.
In addition to its relations with the International Confederation of Arab Labour Trade Unions, the General Federation maintains strong relations with the Federations of the Trade Unions in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia and Iraq.
In the international arena, the General Federation of Labour Trade Unions in Jordan connected itself with the World Federation of Trade Unions in Prague, which represented the counterbalance to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Brussels. The Prague Confederation included the unions of the Soviet Union, of other socialist countries, and of the Third World. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the General Federation of Labour Trade Unions in Jordan joined the ICFTU. The Jordanian trade unions maintain bilateral relations with some European and American union organizations. Nevertheless, the Jordanian Labour presence in international assemblies remains weak and uninfluential.
[page-number of print-ed.: 76]
This explains the absence of a clear and definite vision of the position of the Jordanian Labour movement in the international Labour relations' network, on both the regional and international levels. Apparently, there are no specialized departments in the Federation concerned with either Arab or international relations, though the Executive Committee includes two professionals in that regard, the Secretary for International Relations and the Secretary for Arab Relations.
The importance of the Jordanian Labour presence in regional and international conferences and gatherings is weakened because the composition of the delegations of the General Federation is not based on definite criteria like specialization and expertise. Instead, such delegations rely on the method of rotation and apportionment. Such external participation is considered an opportunity to divide daily travel expense and other allowances between the Executive Committee members. It seems that the sharing method and the self-benefit view of external participation, the Federation lacks effective roles on both the regional and the international levels. Therefore, the General Federations participation in a broad network of co-operative relations with other Labour movements appears to be weak.
During the past few years, the Federation showed a limited openness to international and foreign organizations. It started to receive support to hold seminars, workshops, and training courses in cooperation with some donating institutions in the United States, Norway and a few other countries, as well as with the International Labour Organization and the ICFTU.
The weakness of relations of the General Federation of Labour Trade Unions in Jordan with similar organizations on both the Arab and the international levels is on the one hand an expression of the crisis from which the General Federation suffers, but at the same time is a reflection of the situation of the international Labour movement.
[page-number of print-ed.: 77]
5. The Organizational Structure of the Jordanian Labour Movement and Union Democracy
The structure of the Jordanian Labour Movement suffers from several organizational problems. The most prominent of these are:
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Januar 2002