24 Jun

AMMAN — Ali Al-Sayed, 50, is an Egyptian construction worker who spends hours working under the scorching sun and heat at different sites in Amman during the summer. His only protection is wetting his baseball cap to avoid sun strokes.

“This is my work and I have to live with it to make a living,” he said. “I have no alternative, except to try to avoid sun strokes, or getting sick from the heat.”

Sayed, who has been working in Jordan for 10 years, said he asked his employer to take a break during the peak hours of the day, working instead at dawn, or at night when the weather is cooler.

“He refused because this does not bode well with the work schedule, although we argued that the sun and heat reduce our productivity,” added the worker, one of an estimated 750,000 Egyptian workers in Jordan.

Walid Al-Abbadi, an engineer who oversees a housing project, said he advocated halting work during peak sun hours. “This is what we do in our company to avoid sun strokes and have the workers work well and produce better, provided that they work certain shift hours,” he said.

Abbadi called for the necessity of providing laborers with health benefits and social security, in addition to “taking into account the humanitarian aspect in dealing with them”.

He said that some employers exploit workers, “especially in the current economic conditions”, where prices of various commodities have increased. By the same token, he added, there “are workers who would accept very low payments, which may reach half of the average daily wage in order to get a job.”

He called on workers to adhere to safety measures by wearing helmets and special suits, which would protect them from injuries.

He pointed to hazards at the workplace. “The floors are high, and in most cases at construction sites, the stairs are without railing, and these are dangers that require caution.”

Haitham Al-Najdawi, the head of the Central Inspection Directorate of the Ministry of Labor, said that the labor law did not explicitly address the issue of working conditions under high temperatures, but the ministry obliges employers to provide protection for workers and to establish measures to protect them in Article 78 of the Labor Law.

Najdawi said that the Ministry of Labor publishes awareness and educational messages to workers and employers periodically to raise their awareness on hazards in the workplace and points them to appropriate public safety mechanisms.

Hamada Abu Nijmeh, the head of the Worker’s House, said that protecting workers from all forms of work hazards is the responsibility of the government as well as employers. He said the worker safety is stipulated by legislation, particularly the Labor Law in the chapter related to occupational safety and health, and the regulations and instructions issued, based on this chapter.

“In our laws and in international labor standards, work is required to stop in conditions that pose a danger to workers, whether for reasons of extremely cold or hot weather conditions, or because of any other factors in internal or external work sites,” he said. Abu Nijmeh said the safety measures also apply to workers on their way to and from work.

“Exposing workers to any of these dangers constitutes a violation of laws which require punishment,” he explained.

Although there is no explicit provision in the Jordanian Labor Law about working conditions and times in outdoor sites in exceptional weather conditions as in other countries, the Labor Law requires employers to provide the necessary precautions to protect workers from workplace hazards.

“This includes the dangers posed by the work environment that is extremely hot or cold, which exposes them to heat strokes, severe exhaustion, and sometimes death,” he said.

The Labor Law, he added, gave the minister the powers to issue instructions and make decisions related to the protection of workers from the dangers in the workplace and to specify the measures to be adopted by employers to ensure the safety of everyone in the workplace.

The Minister of Labor can also dictate the terms of protection for working conditions in extremely hot or very cold weather, and that the minister’s failure to act would not preempt the responsibility of employers to provide a suitable work environment.

In the agricultural sector, important legislative progress was achieved in this regard with the issuance of the agricultural workers’ system in March 2021. Article 4 in the law gave the Minister of Labor the power to issue the necessary decision in exceptional weather conditions, specifying the working hours in which it is prohibited to hire laborers to work outdoors.

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