Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Agricultural laborers in Jordan: Legalized serfdom!


The rights enshrined in Jordan’s labor and social security laws do not apply to agricultural laborers. This aberration harms the agricultural sector and the country at large.

Unskilled agricultural workers in Jordan have very little work rights. The labor law specifically states that its provisions do not apply to them. This means that these workers do not benefit from the stipulations on minimum wage, limits on working hours, overtime pay, protection against arbitrary terminations, annual vacations and sick leaves.

Unskilled agricultural workers are also not covered by the social security safety net. Social security enrollment is mandatory only for workers covered by the labor law. They therefore, lack social security insurance against death or disability nor are they enrolled in its retirement and pension plan. 

This legalized serfdom of agriculture laborers should not stand. No society in the 21st century can go on with such disregard to basic work rights. This situation may well be the most important factor in Jordan’s young shunning agricultural work which is dominated by unskilled cheap expatriate labor. Rectifying this situation could help reduce Jordan’s chronic unemployment problem amongst the youth.

Pointing out the ill fortune of agricultural labor, does not mean farm owners are the problem. A majority suffer from low profitability and frequent losses. In Jordan’s agricultural sector, the real winners are the middlemen, merchants and the government at the expense of farm owners, laborers and consumers. This is mainly due to regulations and excessive fees. The regulations forbid farmers from selling their produce wholesale except through intermediaries in specified markets. Farmers pay fees on produce entering the wholesale markets and pay 6% in fees to middlemen. On average, farmers pay 10% of their sales in fees and commissions regardless of whether they made a profit or not. While agriculture is exempt from income tax, farmers end up paying an effective tax far exceeding other sectors due to these wholesale markets fees.
The agricultural sector needs urgent rebalancing to alleviate the burdens on labor and farm owners.  Solutions could include the following:
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Applying the provisions of the labor and social security laws to all agriculture workers without any exception. This would make the work more attractive for Jordanians and help reduce youth unemployment. Enforcing social security enrollment on business owners that employ expatriate workers could also have the added benefit of reducing the black market for agriculture work permits used by workers to enter Jordan and then join other sectors illegally.

-      Slashing the fees paid by farmers at wholesale markets. This would enhance their profit margins and compensate farm owners for the extra labor costs and enhance their profitability.

-      Allowing farmers to sell to merchants wholesale directly without intermediaries if they so wish. This removes the current monopoly on wholesale distinction which benefits middlemen and merchants at the expense of consumers and farmers.