The seen and unseen in Jordan
Under popular pressure, the government today agreed to raise the minimum wage in the country to 110 JD per month. Supposedly, the 15 dinar increase will help cover the shortfall created by increasing fuel prices. In a notable exception, the raise will not cover workers in the clothing industry, as their raises have been deferred until the beginning of next year.
Owners of clothing factories take advantage of preferential treatment in US markets because of a free trade agreement between Jordan and the United States as well as a Qualified Industrial Zone agreement requiring input from both Israel and Jordan in the final product. Such factories typically gravitate towards countries which have very cheap labor. However, do to quota restrictions, are limited in their ability to sell in the US. So, they set up shop in Jordan where they have better access to the large markets, and import labor from China and other Asian countries. Local labor consists of young women who need income, no matter how small. Thousands of jobs are available in these factories, but owners are finding difficulty in enticing people to work there, largely due to the low salaries.
Zuhair Kayed, head of the higher council for population says that 733000 people in Jordan are living on less than a dinar a day. So, the dilemma is whether low paying jobs in sweatshops are better than not offering any economic opportunities for the poor at all. The implication is that the factories can easily be relocated to other countries with cheaper labor. Given the alternative, I would grudgingly go for providing choice for people. Fahed Fanek suggests that the owners of the clothing factories are overplaying their hand, and that they can afford to raise the wages of their workers in the country. If his math is correct, I don't see why the government went along with deferring raising of wages in these factories.
On the other end of the spectrum, agents who recruit domestic help from southern Asia organized a demonstration today. They are claiming that the government is placing limits and obstacles in the way of bringing in Sri Lankan and Indonesian domestic workers. According to ministry of labor numbers, there are about 70000 foreign domestic workers in the country. Assuming that each one of these ladies is working for one family, then one would conclude that 7% (1 in 14) families in Jordan have a foreign live-in maid. Now, not being judgmental, and realizing that in some cases (where the family is old or one of the members is infirm) live in help is needed, one wonders how much of this workforce is actually necessary, as opposed to factors such as laziness and jealousy being the reason behind such a large population of domestic help.
According to Zuhair Kayed again, there are 170000 births and 137000 deaths in the country every year. This averages out to 375 deaths per day. Reading the obituaries daily, one would have the impression that there are about 20 deaths per day. As the ex-editor in chief of Al Rai, Mahmoud Kayed, once said, one is not really dead in Jordan unless his obituary appears in Al Rai.
Another saying in Jordan goes like this "Ithnain ma btidri anha ilnass; sharmatat il ghani wa mout il faqir". Rough translation: Two things go unnoticed; the whoring of the rich and the death of the poor.