Jordan’s Vulnerable Will Pay the Price for Protecting Businesses

Like many governments around the world, Jordan has been forced to take urgent economic measures amid the Covid-19 pandemic. In April, it used emergency decrees to alter labor and social security laws, and on May 31, it further loosened labor protections. Private employers in sectors most affected by the pandemic can now fire or cut the salaries of employees who cannot work remotely by up to 60 percent – as long as their total salary does not fall below 150 Jordanian Dinars (JDs) (US$211) per month – all without government approval or oversight. The government will not be paying the wage difference.

A wage of 150 JDs is nowhere near enough to make ends meet in Jordan, one of the Arab world’s most expensive countries. Prior to the pandemic, more than 1 million Jordanians were already living under the poverty line, with an average poor household income of around 440 JDs, and over 19 percent of the population was unemployed.

Removing wage protections will make the situation worse, especially because some employers who have not suffered adverse effects from the pandemic may abuse the law to lower wages arbitrarily. Jordan Labor Watch, a non-profit group that monitors economic rights, has already documented such cases.

Under international human rights law, Jordan has an obligation to ensure that workers have “just and favorable” working conditions, including fair wages sufficient to provide a decent living for workers and their dependents.

The government itself has acknowledged that Jordan’s poorest rely more heavily on employment income, and the vast majority of them are employed in the private sector, so these changes will disproportionately affect the most economically vulnerable.

In order to save thousands of Jordanians from sliding into poverty, the government should support workers and their families, in addition to struggling businesses, rather than making new rules that further endanger them.