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July, 24 2009 |  Download PDF |  Share

U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement Stumbles

Human Trafficking, Abuse, Forced Overtime, Primitive Dorm Conditions, Imprisonment and Forcible Deportations of Foreign Guest Workers At the Muse Factory in Jordan


Muse Textile Ltd.
Al Hassan Industrial City
Irbid, Jordan
Phone: 02 739154
Fax: 02 739153

The Muse Textile factory is reported to be owned by an Israeli, Mr. Musa. In Jordan, the factory
is called “Musa Garments.”

There are approximately 209 workers at the Musa factory, of which 181 are foreign guest
workers—132 from Bangladesh and 49 from India. Just 27 or so Jordanian workers are
employed there.

1.) Human Trafficking:

Upon their arrival at the Musa factory, foreign guest workers are stripped of their passports—they are confiscated and withheld by management. Many of the guest workers have been stripped of their passports for two, three or more years. Over the course of years, the workers have repeatedly begged management to return their passports or at least provide them with copies, but management ignored the workers’ pleas.

Of course, withholding the passports of foreign workers is illegal and a serious international
human rights crime. The Jordanian Ministry of Labor must explain what went so wrong at the
Musa factory.

2.) Primitive Dorm Conditions:

According to a Ministry of Labor report (July 9, 2009):
“The general conditions in the dormitories are acceptable. Depending on the size of the
dormitory room, it is shared between 4-8 workers. The rooms are regularly cleaned and
sufficient toilets and showers are available. Water, electricity and heating are also available.”

However, the foreign guest workers who actually live in the dorm provide a very different
account.

As many as 10 workers are crowded into small rooms (approximately 12 by 14 feet), sleeping on
double-level bunk beds. There is no shower. In fact, water is available only one or two hours
each night. The workers have to save water, using small plastic buckets in order to take sponge
baths in the morning. The water is also not potable. The bathrooms are filthy, give off a strong
stench, and they have no doors or lights.

The dorm’s roof leaks, and the shoddy electrical system frequently shorts out, burning wires.
There is no proper kitchen. The workers cook within their small rooms.

Contrary to the Ministry of Labor’s report, there is no heat or hot water available in dorms,
despite winter temperatures that reach the freezing point. In fact, the few small portable room
heaters in the dorms were purchased by the workers themselves. The workers pooled their
money to buy them.

There are also bed bugs in the dorm, which at times is so infested that the workers have trouble
sleeping.

The workers confirm that the primitive, substandard dorm conditions described above have been
consistent for at least the last 2 ½ years.

When the workers asked for and demanded regular access to water in their dorm, a supervisor
warned them that “if they kept talking like that, he would cut off their penises.”

3.) Substandard Food:

According to the Ministry of Report, “Food is provided three times a
day—breakfast and dinner in the dormitories and lunch in the factory. The quality and
quantity are considered to be sufficient.”


Once again, the workers who actually have to eat the company food have a very different
opinion, describing it as too little and tasting terrible. The food, provided by a subcontractor, is
often just half cooked on the outside and raw on the inside. Blood runs from the chicken when
they cut it. For breakfast, the workers are fed a piece of pita bread and a cup of tea. As a special
treat, three mornings each week, they also receive an egg. Lunch consists of small portions of
fish, beef, chicken or eggs with rice. Any worker daring to ask for a second helping is screamed
at. The workers take their supper of vegetables and rice in the dorm. As the food provided is
insufficient, the workers had to chip in their own money to purchase the cheapest meats or eggs
to cook in their dorm rooms.

4.) Forced Overtime and Seven-Day Work Weeks:

Again, to quote from the Ministry of
Labor report: “Workers indicated that they voluntarily work on public holidays and that
payments for such work are correct…workers indicated they voluntarily work overtime almost
every day. On average, they work 2-3 hours overtime each day. Payments for overtime are
correct. Occasionally, workers work on Friday. If so, they work voluntarily and are paid
correctly.”


It is unclear what timeframe the Ministry of Labor is referring to, since for the last eight months or so, the workers at Musa have worked very little, if any, overtime. When the worldwide economic recession hit, as of December 2008 all excessive production and overtime work was basically shut down.

Today, standard working hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 or 4:30 p.m. with Friday off.

However, prior to December 2008, the routine shift at the Musa factory was 12 ½ to 13 ½ hours
a day, from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. The workers also toiled on Friday, their supposed
holiday, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. All overtime was strictly obligatory. The workers worked
seven days a week. Anyone daring to miss an overtime shift was docked two or even three
days’ wages as punishment.


It is true, however, as the Ministry of Labor reports, that the workers were paid more or less
correctly for both their regular and overtime hours. Prior to the downturn in December 2008,
including their excessive mandatory overtime, the workers could earn 150 to 190 Jordanian
Dinar ($211 to $268 U.S.) per month.

The workers were also required to work on all Jordanian national holidays, but here the workers
were cheated, as they were paid straight time and not the overtime premium legally due them.

Since Jordanians will not work in their country’s garment factories, tens of thousands of foreign
guest workers have had to be recruited. The guest workers come from Bangladesh, China, India,
Sri Lanka, Nepal and other countries. They all come for one reason only: to earn as much
money as they possibly can to pay off the debts they incurred to purchase their three-year work
contracts in Jordan, and to send money home to their families.

At the Musa factory, prior to the recession and worldwide collapse of the apparel industry, the
workers toiled seven days a week, racking up huge amounts of overtime. There were many
illegal abuses, such as the excessive overtime, seven-day work weeks, work on national holidays,
and so on, but the workers could put up with it all as long as they were supporting their families.
This was their sacrifice.

5.) A Failure to Communicate:

It is important to understand how these factories function. As mentioned above, it is believed that the Muse Textiles factory is owned by a Mr. Musa, an Israeli, who rarely visits the factory. The general manager of the plant is Mr. Riad, who is Palestinian. Given the large number of Bangladeshi workers at the factory, four out of five top supervisors are also Bangladeshi. There is actually a term, “head Bengali,” for the senior Bangladeshi supervisor, Mr. Rezaul. Another important supervisor is Mr. Mosharraf, who is in charge of production. These supervisors can earn four times what the workers do. Their job is to drive the workers as hard as they can and to spy on and control the workers.

It was on June 16 that the trouble started. When the workers complained once again about the
lack of water in their dorm, Mr. Rezaul publicly mocked the male workers, saying he would cut
off their penises if they continued to complain.
Tempers were growing short. Around that
same time, 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 16, the production supervisor, Mr. Mosharraf, slapped
a women sewing operator, Ms. Lovely, very hard in the face
for failing to meet her production
goal. Many workers witnessed this and anger spread throughout the factory. Tension and anger
had been building up for months, and emotions were reaching the boiling point.

When the recession hit, around December 2008, management responded with an arbitrary speedup
in production. What the workers had produced in 12 ½ or 13 ½ hours, working from 7:30
a.m. to 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., management now wanted them to make in just 8 ½ to nine hours,
working from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 or 4:30 p.m. Sewers who had a target of 30 pieces an hour, were
now told that they had to complete 40 pieces an hour. Mr. Mosharraf slapped Ms. Lovely when
she argued with him, explaining that the production goal was unrealistic and impossible to reach.
All the Bangladeshi workers united. They appealed to the general manager, Mr. Riad, saying
that if the very abusive “head Bengali,” Mr. Rezaul, stayed, they would not work. The same
went for Mr. Mosharraf, who slapped the woman worker.

Mr. Riad reportedly told the workers to go home to their dorm, and that “I’ll see. I’ll see
tomorrow,”
half promising that the abusive supervisor would be fired. Again, the general
manager asked everyone to go homeback to the dorm and come back tomorrow. The workers
stayed in the factory until about 3:00 p.m., but did not work.

Around 11:00 a.m., 10 to 12 policemen entered the factory. A few guest workers who
understood a little Arabic heard the police threatening, “work, or you’ll be handcuffed and
imprisoned.”


Mr. Riad once again asked the workers to return to the dorm, and they did so at around 3:00 p.m.
The workers did not see this as a strike. It was the general manager who told them to go home
and return tomorrow.

The workers had many grievances: Ms. Lovely being slapped; the filthy and humiliating threats
by Mr. Rezaul; the excessive production goals; lack of water in their dorm; the lack of
overtime which hindered their ability to send money home; being forced to work on national
holidays while being paid for just regular hours; that workers who due to various emergencies
had to return home were obligated to purchase their own plane tickets; the lack of adequate
health care—(a doctor came to the factory once a week and at most handed out prescriptions
which the workers could not afford to fill) etc.

On June 17, the management did not send the bus to bring the workers from their dorm to the
factory. In fact, the factory gate was chained shut, and the Bangladeshi workers were locked out.

On Sunday, June 21, a delegation of Musa workers walked 3 ½ hours to appeal to the Labor
Court. There was not much of a discussion, but the workers were told that if they did not return
to work within 48 hours, they would be fined 50 JD ($70.52 U.S.)—about two weeks’ wages—
for the first day and 5 JD ($7.05 U.S., more than they earned in a day) for each day after that.

On June 24, the workers met with an official from the Bangladeshi Embassy, Mr. Shakil, and a
local representative of the Ministry of Labor office at Al Hassan. According to the workers, the
Ministry of Labor official behaved very rudely, shouting at the workers that “if you don’t listen
to us, we will call the police and have you all arrested.”
He also threatened that food would be
cut off if they did not return to work. (If fact, it appears that all food was cut off on Saturday,
June 20.) The Bangladesh Embassy official essentially explained that he had no power to help.

On July 2, the general manager, Mr. Riad, met very briefly with the workers, telling them they
must either return to work or “I’ll call the police and stop the food.” (Though the food had
already been stopped.) Mr. Shakil, the Bangladesh Embassy official, was again present. The
workers wanted to return to the factory but asked the Embassy official for help. They would
return to the factory, but they wanted their passports back and a guarantee that they would not be
beaten by the police. The desperate workers kept pleading with the Embassy official, begging :
“You are a Bangladeshi official. Please, you must help us. We have nowhere else to turn to.”
Mr. Shakil responded as he had in the past, saying, “I have no power and there is nothing I can
do here.”
The workers begged him again to arrange an agreement so they could enter the factory
to work. When the workers, who had gathered around the Embassy official’s car, continued to
plead for help, Mr. Shakil called the police. The workers had peacefully blocked his car for 30
to 40 minutes.

The police arrived and beat five workers, including women, who were visibly bruised and
bleeding. At that point, to protect their co-workers, some workers did throw stones at the police,
who were beating the women.

On July 5, as the workers put it, “We surrendered to the boss.” They knew they would never
receive justice. So, in desperation, they agreed to whatever the owner said. They would pay the
fine of over 200 JD ($282) if they had to.

On July 6, Musa supervisors came to the dorm and picked out about half the workers, asking that
they return to the factory immediately. The other half were told they would return to work the
following day, July 7.

Instead, around 2:00 p.m. on July 6, about 50 police charged the dormitory and took 24
workers—10 men and 14 women, to prison. The men were taken out in handcuffs. Several of
the women were not allowed to fully clothe themselves before being dragged out, which for them
was a great humiliation.

Of the 24 workers taken to the police station, 18 were freed. But six workers were imprisoned
from July 6 to July 15, when they were forcibly deported without any of their personal
belongings.

Two of the six workers, both women, were beaten in prison. One was slapped, and the other
kicked when they asked why they were being arrested. Conditions in the prison were very poor.
The workers had no mattresses, no pillows, little food, and unsafe drinking water. They only got
by because the husband of one of the imprisoned women brought her food every day, which she
shared with the other workers.

In another bizarre police action, the imprisoned workers were told to give the names of their
closest friends to the police, supposedly so they could retrieve their personal belongings. But
when the six workers, including one supervisor, showed up at the police station at 5:00 p.m.,
they too were arrested. To date, no one knows where these six workers are being held.
According to the Ministry of Labor report, “…the six workers in question were detained for
repatriation by order of the Ministry of Interior on request of the governor by letter of June
30. The reasons for the detention relate to their involvement in activities contravening public
security and are not related to their possible involvement in the strike.”


The six imprisoned and forcibly deported workers—three men and three women—had all
worked in Jordan for up to five years without a single incident or complaint against them.
Not only have the six workers been forcibly deported, but six more Musa workers apparently
remain imprisoned in an unknown location. Moreover, conditions remain miserable for the
workers who are still working at the Musa factory. The workers’ passports are still being
illegally withheld! And they are now being threatened that they too will be imprisoned if they
fail to reach their mandatory production goals. There are also constant threats of forcible
deportation. The workers are terrified since management continues to target the most outspoken
workers.

The Jordanian Ministry of Labor’s report, “Musa Garments,” released on July 9, 2009, is badly
flawed, with numerous factual errors. Worse still, six workers were forcibly deported just days
after the Ministry of Labor gave its assurance that no action would be taken against the workers
pending a full review. It is extremely disturbing that the Ministry of Labor is apparently
unaware that the foreign guest workers at the Musa factory have for the last several years been
illegally stripped of their passports, which have been held by management. Human trafficking is
an international human rights crime.

It is not the role of the Ministry of Labor to be an advocate for the foreign guest workers.
However, given the special circumstances of the foreign guest workers, who do not speak
Arabic, who have little or no contact with Jordanian unions or NGOs and whose embassy is
rarely helpful, the Ministry of Labor must at least strive to be objective and open.
On July 18, the National Labor Committee travelled to Bangladesh and was able to interview
four of the six workers deported from the Musa factory: Ms. Khadija (passport D 0456612),
Ms. Nasrin (ID# 718, passport V 0974839), Ms. Sufia (ID# 807, passport P 0695276) and Mr.
Yasin (ID# 710, passport V 0807588). We found their account to be credible and honest. The
family homes of the two other workers, Mr. Nazrul (ID# 614,--passport B 0656397) and Mr.
Habib, were too far from Dhaka for them to attend the meeting with us.

The six deported workers are owed an apology by the Ministry of Labor, along with significant
back wages and benefits still owed them. Their personal belongings must be returned. One of
the workers was actually deported barefoot.

There are 11 months left on the work contract that these workers signed with the Musa garment
factory. They must be paid their regular wages for those eleven months. These deported
workers have all been in Jordan more than five years. For each year, they are due 14 days of
vacation pay. It appears the Jordanian government may have utilized the workers’ outstanding
Social Security benefits, which they were legally due, to purchase the airline tickets to forcibly
deport them. This must be illegal and is certainly immoral. Not only were these Bangladeshi
workers illegally stripped of their passports when they reached the Musa factory, but for the first
year, they also worked without a contract, which means they were cheated even further on their
Social Security benefits.

The six workers who remain imprisoned in an unknown location must be immediately released.
The Musa garment factory should be immediately brought into compliance with Jordanian labor
law and the ILO’s internationally recognized worker rights standards.

 

MUSA GARMENTS


Further to the information provided by the NLC in a number of emails sent during the period 4-9
July 2009, the Inspectorate can provide the findings below. These findings are based on
information available through regular inspections undertaken as well as factory visits undertaken
to specifically verify the information provided by the NLC. Inspection visits are undertaken by
teams that include staff who speak the languages of guest workers.

Musa factory

Musa Garments was established in Jordan in 2006. It currently has 209 workers, of which 132
are from Bangladesh, 49 from India, and 27 from Jordan.


Strike action

On June 17, 128 Bangladeshi workers at Musa garments went on strike. Local labour inspectors
met with the workers on that day and were informed by the workers that their demands were 1)
to deport 4 Bangladeshi supervisors who they claimed verbally abused the workers, and 2) a
guarantee of 4 hours of over time every day.

The Labour Inspectorate attempted to negotiate an agreement but management and the workers
were not willing to compromise. The workers were informed by the Inspectorate that their strike
was illegal given that they had not provided the legally required notice and on June 21 issued a
formal warning to the workers informing them they had to return to work within 48 hours and
that they may be subject to the imposition of legal fines should they not do so.

On June 28, the Ambassador of Bangladesh met with the workers to try and negotiate a
compromise but was unsuccessful. On July 2, an Embassy official and the Director of the local
Inspectorate made further attempts to negotiate a compromise. The Embassy official was taken
hostage by the workers who injured him during the related altercation. He subsequently
requested police assistance. According to the police, when they arrived on the scene they did not
intervene although the workers threw rocks at them. It appears that several workers were injured
in the altercation surrounding the hostage taking. On the other hand, workers allege that the
police did intervene leading to minor injuries of four workers.

During the strike a number of workers indicated they wanted to return to work but were
prevented to do so, partly through threats and physical violence, by a small group of workers also
on strike.

On 6 July, 105 workers returned to work and 23 workers remain on strike.

On 7 July, the Director of the Inspectorate and a representative from the National Centre for
Human Rights visited the factory and met with management and workers. The workers provided
different and non-uniform reasons for going on strike (one abusive supervisor, lack of water in
the dormitories due to a mechanical failure). None of the workers interviewed indicated that the
reason for the strike was the refusal of management to provide tickets to the four workers
indicated by the NLC.

Detained workers

The NLC alleges that a number of workers are imprisoned for their role in organizing the strike.
However, the six workers in question were detained for repatriation by order of the Ministry of
Interior on request of the Governor by letter of June 30. The reasons for the detention relate to
their involvement in activities contravening public security and are not related to their possible
involvement in the strike. The Ministry of Interior approved the request on July 5 and police
subsequently detained the workers on July 6.

Wage payments

Wage payments are correct and generally paid between 7 and 10 of each month. The NLC is
correct in that the May salaries were not paid until June 13.

Paid holidays


Workers indicated that they voluntarily work on public holidays and that payments for such
work are correct. Wage payments for work on the public holiday were not made on time because
a number of workers refused to receive these wages because they had gone strike. These
payments were available at that time though.

Over time


Workers indicated they voluntarily work over time almost every day. On average they work 2-3
hours over time each day. Payments for over time are correct. Occasionally, workers work on
Friday. If so, they work voluntary and are paid correctly.

Dormitories


The general conditions in the dormitories are acceptable. Depending on the size of the dormitory
room it is shared between 4-8 workers. The rooms are regularly cleaned and sufficient toilets and
showers are available. Water, electricity and heating are also available.

Food

Food is provided three times a day – breakfast and dinner in the dormitories and lunch in the
factory. The quality and quantity are considered to be sufficient. During the strike breakfast and
dinner were continuously provided but workers refused to go for lunch since this is served in the
factory.

 

For the full report, please download the PDF file