Informally employed Syrian refugees, working under harsh conditions, further strain Jordanian labour market

The arrival of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in neighbouring Jordan has increased unemployment in areas in which they are highly concentrated, and further strained the host country’s infrastructure, resources and public services. This has increased competition in some sectors and added to the informality of the labour market, a new joint report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Institute for Applied International Studies (Fafo) finds.

News | Amman - Jordan | 18 May 2015
© ILO/Nadia Bseiso 2015
AMMAN (ILO News) – Syrian workers in Jordan are willing to accept lower wages and harsher working conditions than Jordanians, competing with Jordanians in some sectors and further increasing the informality of the labour market, a new study by the ILO and the Oslo-based Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies has found. The study examines the impact of the Syrian refugee influx on the Jordanian labour market.

This is putting more pressure on Jordanian authorities to enforce existing labour standards such as minimum wage, working hours and safety at work.

The study has found that unemployment amongst Jordanians in three areas with high concentrations of Syrian refugees – the capital Amman and the northern governorates of Irbid and Mafraq – rose from 14.5 per cent to 22.1 per cent between 2011 and 2014.

The newly published study, conducted by the ILO and the Oslo-based Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies, is based on a survey of approximately 4,000 Jordanian and Syrian households in these three areas, which host three-quarters of the 628,000 refugees registered in Jordan. The Mafraq governorate includes the Zaatari camp, the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.

The study, entitled Impact of Syrian Refugees on the Jordanian Labour Market, was conducted in collaboration with the Jordanian Department of Statistics (DOS). It provides a better understanding of the employment profile of Syrian refugees in Jordan, and recommends strategies to address challenges facing the refugees and Jordanian host communities in their search for employment and livelihood.

“This study is part of our efforts in the ILO to alleviate some of the effects of the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan,” said Frank Hagemann, the ILO’s Regional Director for Arab States ad interim.

“It will enable us to better understand and help resolve the very real problems facing the labour market in Jordan for both Syrian refugees and Jordanian host communities.”

The study looks at the situation of refugees working in both Jordanian host communities and inside refugee camps. It found that almost all of them do not have work permits, and are therefore employed in the informal economy and outside the bounds of Jordanian labour law.

Refugees paid less, work more

© ILO/Nadia Bseiso 2015
Although informally employed Jordanian workers face many of the same challenges as informally employed Syrian workers, findings show that Syrian workers are generally paid less: 15 per cent of Jordanians made less than 200 Jordanian dinars (about $US 282) a month, while as many as 44 per cent of Syrian refugees working outside camps made less 200 Jordanian dinars a month. The Refugees also have to work longer hours: about 30 per cent of Syrian refugees worked more than 60 hours a week, with 16 per cent working 80 hours or more. Syrians who do possess contracts generally have less satisfactory contracts compared to Jordanians in the same sector.

The majority of Syrian refugees who have obtained work in Jordan appear to occupy primarily low-skilled and low-wage jobs that emerged during their arrival. Some refugees took on jobs that already existed prior to their arrival, increasing competition with Jordanian host-community workers.

One of the main findings relates to a change in industrial occupations amongst Jordanians: 30 per cent of Jordanian workers who were employed in construction and in agriculture just before the crisis erupted in Syria do not work in these industries today. Worthy of note is that these two sectors also include many migrant workers from other nationalities.

A sector which seems to attract both nationalities is the wholesale and retail sector, which, based on those surveyed, employs 23 per cent of Syrian refugees working outside refugee camps and 18 per cent of Jordanians.

Jordanian host community unemployment rate rising

The research found that the unemployment rate amongst Jordanian men and women in host communities in Amman, Irbid and Mafraq increased since 2011 from approximately 30 to 40 per cent amongst women and from approximately 10 to 17 per cent amongst men in 2014.

Members of the international community and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) met in Amman to discuss the report’s findings before its launch.

“Key findings and recommendations that need to be urgently considered for humanitarian planning and response are the unemployment rates among youth and low school attendance rates among Syrian children,” said Karen Whiting, Senior Protection Officer, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “We also need to raise more awareness among Syrian refugees about Jordanian labour law, including legal requirements for participating in the labour market,” she added.

Irene Fellmann, Development Counsellor at the German Embassy in Amman, said “the study's recommendations need to be taken into consideration when examining how better to enable marginalized Jordanians and Syrian refugees to participate in Jordan's labour market and wider economy.”

At present, about 51 per cent of the Syrian men living outside camps participate in the Jordanian labour market, while as much as 57 per cent are looking for work. This does not apply to Syrian women, of whom only seven per cent of participate in the Jordanian labour market.

This will pose a serious threat to the future of the Jordanian labour market. If humanitarian aid begins to dry up with no sign of a resolution to the conflict in Syria and a return of refugees to their homes, then a greater number of Syrian refugees will need to enter the labour market, the study concluded.

The report in numbers:
  • Unemployment amongst Jordanians in areas with high concentrations of Syrian refugees rose from 14.5 per cent to 22.1 per cent between 2011 and 2014.
  • The unemployment rate of Jordanians has increased to 40 per cent among women and 17 per cent among men from 2011 to 2014 in the Governorates under study.
  • Of the Syrian refugees who are employed, 99 per cent are working informally and outside Jordan’s labour regulation. About 50 per cent of Jordanians work informally.
  • 60 per cent of the Syrian refugees above the age of 15 have never completed basic schooling, and only about 15 per cent of the refugees have completed secondary education, compared to 42 per cent of Jordanians above the age of 15.
  • More than 40 per cent of working Syrians are employed in the construction industry, followed by 23 per cent in the wholesale and retail trade.
  • While only 14 per cent of the surveyed Jordanian workers work 60 hours or more, about 30 per cent of Syrians work 60 hours or more, including 16 per cent who work 80 hours or more.
  • As many as 25 per cent of Syrian refugees working outside Za’atri camp, and as many as 61 per cent of Syrian refugees working in Za’atri camp earn well below the 150 Jordanian Dinar (about $US 211) minimum wage per month for non-Jordanians. This is compared to 13 per cent of Jordanians who earn below the national minimum wage of 190 Jordanian Dinar (about $US 268) per month for Jordanian citizens
  • In terms of child labour, 1.6 per cent of Jordanian boys and 8 per cent of Syrian boys aged 9 to 15 are economically active. Seventeen per cent of Jordanian boys and 37 per cent of Syrian boys in the older age group of 15 to 18 are economically active.

The way forward

As part of the Jordan Response Plan 2015, the Jordanian government, with support from the international community, is already exerting concerted efforts to address these challenges in the labour market.

Nonetheless, the main recommendation of the report is to give Syrian refugees formal work permits in specific sectors in accordance with Jordanian regulations. As long as this issue is not tackled, unregulated and informal work will continue and negatively affect both Jordanians and Syrians alike. Thus the study proposes the following actions:
  • Job creation: This includes creating immediate emergency jobs in affected governorates; updating, adapting and expediting the implementation of the National Employment Strategy; maximising the short term employment potential of the aid economy; and coordinating measures between the international community and the government of Jordan in this regard.
  • Job quality: This includes a focus on the expanding informal employment through strengthened labour market management and compliance with labour laws such as improving wage policy, monitoring working conditions, eliminating the resurgence of child labour and strengthening migration management.
  • Contingency Planning: It is reasonable to assume that access to humanitarian aid and other types of support prevent many Syrian refugees from entering the labour market today. If no measures are taken, a large number of these refugees will potentially enter into the labour market once the humanitarian aid is scaled down and ultimately stopped. At the same time, it is likely that the conflict in Syria will continue for a long time, and that many Syrians will remain in Jordan for years to come. As such it is important to clarify realistic scenarios for the development of the Jordanian labour market, taking into consideration that 1) Syrian refugees will most probably be in Jordan and make implications on the labour market for several years to come, and 2) Syrian refugee involvement can be formalised into the Jordanian labour market in ways that could be beneficial for the Jordanian economy.

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