Jordan Teachers ‘Will Not Back Down’ in Face of Assaults on Union

Jordan Teachers ‘Will Not Back Down’ in Face of Assaults on Union

Teachers in Jordan are “insisting on their legal rights to have an association” and will not give up after the government dissolved their union in July and imprisoned union activists, says Kefah Abu Farhan, a board member with the Jordan Teacher Association (JTA).

“Teachers, male and female, stress day after day that these measures are not acceptable for us and we will not back down until the teachers association goes back to its legal standing,” said Abu  Farhan, speaking recently with the Solidarity Center through a translator.

The JTA, representing 140,000 active members, waged a month-long strike in 2019 when the government failed to respond to its demand for a 50 percent salary increase. As a result of the strike, teachers received a 35 percent wage increase and 14 additional improvements, the most important of which was the union’s participation in managing the teachers’ savings fund, with its assets totaling more than $141 million.

In July 2020, police raided JTA headquarters in Amman, the capital, and 11 of its branches across Jordan and jailed thousands of teachers, including JTA chairman Nasser Nawasreh. The teachers, some of whom went on a hunger strike, were released after spending a month in prison. Many are still being prosecuted in court, says Abu Farhan. In addition, the government forced 62 teachers to take early retirement “as punishment for expressing their views,” said Hala Ahed, a lawyer on the JTA’s legal team, speaking with the Solidarity Center. The government dissolved the JTA for two years in December 2020 and imprisoned its board members for one year.

Crackdown on Union Freedom Dangerous Road for Democracy

The Jordan government’s move to shut down the JTA was denounced by the global labor movement and human rights organizations worldwide. The United Nations Human Rights Commission said the action is “emblematic of a growing pattern of suppression of public freedoms and the restriction of civic and democratic space by the Jordanian government, including against labor rights activists, human rights defenders, journalists and those who have peacefully criticized the government.”

In October, Jordan authorities barred the JTA from holding a press conference to discuss the conditions teachers are experiencing, a ban implemented by security forces delivering an order from the Amman governor.

Jordanian civil society organizations and unions drafted a solidarity letter condemning measures targeting the right to form unions and other civic freedoms. The JTA’s success in winning the government’s agreement to sign a collective bargaining contract, and the strong stance of teachers demanding their rights, attracted broad public support. The government shut down the JTA in part because it “has become ground zero for those who want to gather, for the middle class to voice their dissatisfaction,” says Ahed.

“There is a symbolic message sent here: Officials can encroach upon constitutional freedoms and escape punishment,” she said. “This could be indication that the upcoming period will be one of oppression, suppression, restraining freedoms in very blunt manner. This is very dangerous.”

Reversing the Gains of the 2011 Arab Uprising

The teachers’ union was established in 2012 after the Jordan monarchy issued a royal decree, reviving the union suspended in the 1950s. Expanded freedom to form unions was among some of the civic freedoms working people championed and won during the 2011 Middle East and North Africa Arab uprisings. In 2011, Jordan amended its constitution, giving political parties and unions the right to form.

Teachers had fought for their rights to form unions and collectively bargain for decades, with many imprisoned in 1975 for setting up committees to create a union. After a new teacher’s movement arose in the 1990s, they were barred again from unionizing when the government cited the constitution to justify its refusal to recognize a teacher’s union.

The victories of 2012 “occurred because of the sacrifices of workers,” says Abu Farhan. “It’s very dangerous, very dangerous, for unions to lose their rights.” Although the country’s constitutional court has recognized International Labor Organization Convention 87 on the right to freedom of association, the government has not yet ratified it.

The government shuttered the JTA after it asked members on Facebook to weigh in on how to ensure the government follow up with its promised pay increases. One of the suggestions called for sit-ins and demonstrations, and proposed activities also included thinking about participating in or boycotting national elections.

The JTA did not commit such a violation of the law because it did not call for an election boycott and calling for demonstrations is not illegal, says Ahed. “There was no criminal act,” she said. “The criminal act under this count only applies to physically preventing people from coming to vote.” During the court trial of JTA Board members, no witnesses were allowed for the defense, she said.

“When the JTA is no more, we go back to pre-2012 days,” Abu Farhan said. “Teachers have to claim their rights, lobby, advocate for their rights. On top of that, we have deteriorating conditions of teachers and their difficulty in retaining top-notch performance. We go backward regarding future reforms in Jordan.”

Yet as Abu Farhan said, teachers will not be silenced: They protested in January even as Jordanian security forces barricaded the roads leading to the Jordan legislature in Amman. The government also placed a metal fence around an open area opposite the parliament in an attempt to prevent large gatherings.

Throughout their protests, teachers carry signs supporting the freedom to negotiate for better wages and working conditions through their freely formed union: “My union is a national achievement that Jordanian teachers will not give up on,” and, simply, “Bring back the teachers’ union.”

Palestine Workers Find Strength in their Union

Palestine Workers Find Strength in their Union

Trade unions in Palestine are among the most significant institutions of civil society not directly tied to any political party. As the primary voice for working families and the unemployed in Palestine, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) plays a prominent role in backing the rule of law and developing coalitions among organizations seeking a more stable, just and prosperous Palestine.

The Solidarity Center works with PGFTU on its advocacy for sustainable job creation and labor law enforcement and its efforts to improve the lives of working people and create a more equitable society. The fight for introducing and enforcing a minimum wage in Palestine is an example of this struggle.

This Solidarity Center photo essay offers a look into the work lives of two PGFTU members, Khadeja Othman, a kindergarten teacher in Ramallah’s Bet Our Al Tahta village, and Abed Al Salam Qadah, a plumber who, like many Palestinians with jobs in Israel, must endure hours each day in dehumanizing lines to pass through the Qalqilya gate, one of hundreds of checkpoints in the West Bank. For further information on Palestinian workers and working conditions, click here.

(All photos by Alaa Salih for the Solidarity Center.)

Palestine, kindergarten teacher, Solidarity Center

Khadeja Othman , 43, holds a bachelor’s degree from Al Yarmouk University in Jordan and teaches kindergarten in Ramallah’s Bet Our Al Tahta village.

Palestine, kindergarten teacher, Solidarity Center

As a PGFTU member, Khadeja Othman has participated in many training workshops and co-taught two educational sessions in her village.

Palestine, kindergarten teacher, Solidarity Center

Khadeja Othman loves her job but says the salary is $315 a month, less than the $381 per month Palestinian minimum wage. She says she understands the financial situation of the kindergarten sector and in particular the kindergarten where she works, which is managed by a charitable organization.

Palestine, kindergarten teacher, Solidarity Center

The mother of two sons, Khadeja Othman has taught kindergarten since 1998. “I feel happy to work with kids. They are like my children.”

Palestine, kindergarten teacher, Solidarity Center

Khadeja Othman met AFT and Education International representatives through her involvement in the PGFTU, which receives Solidarity Center support. “This gave me the opportunity to gain many new skills and new relationships.”

Palestine, unions, decent work, teacher, Solidarity Center

Through her union, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions Workers Union and the Solidarity Center, kindergarten teacher Khadeja Othman says she has gained new skills in workshops, training courses and hands-on experience. Credit: Solidarity Center/Alaa T. Badarneh

Palestine, Israeli border crossing, Solidarity Center

Abed Al Salam Qadah, 49, Qahah is from Marda village near Qalqilya city in the northern West Bank and works as a plumber in Israel.

Palestine, Israeli border crossing, Solidarity Center

Each day, Abed Al salam Qahah, the father of eight children, must line up for hours at a checkpoint to cross back and forth into Israel.

Palestine, Israeli border crossing, Solidarity Center

Abed Al Salam Qadah is among thousands of Palestinians who wait in line for hours to cross the Israeli border for their jobs.

Palestine, Israeli border crossing, Solidarity Center

Workers try to be at the checkpoint at 1:30 a.m. and line up in rows until 4 a.m.

Palestine, Israeli border crossing, Solidarity Center

Abed Al Salam Qadah has worked in Israel as a plumber since 1991 and is a member of the PGFTU Qalqilya district union.

Palestine, Israeli border crossing, Solidarity Center

Palestinian workers say they must endure the time-consuming and dehumanizing checkpoint process because there are few jobs in Palestine. The Solidarity Center works with PGFTU to meet with workers at the border and talk with them about their labor rights.

Palestine, Israeli border crossing, Solidarity Center

As a PGFTU member, Abed Al Salam Qadah can take part in union trainings to better understand his labor rights in Israel and has access to a lawyer to defend those rights. The union also provides document translation from Hebrew to Arabic.

Palestine, Israeli border crossing, Solidarity Center

Says Abed Al Salam Qadah: “The union helps us to understand the Israeli labor law and defend our rights.”

Georgia Union President Elected to Top International Post

Georgia Union President Elected to Top International Post

Irakli Petriashvili, president of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation, a Solidarity Center partner, was elected president of the Pan-European Regional Council (PERC) this week in Brussels, Belgium.

Describing the persistence of Georgian union members in championing worker rights during a politically difficult time over the past 10 years, Petriashvili said only strong unity “could stand the pressure of the radical anti-union regime.” Georgian union members’ “uncompromised persistence and firmness encouraged by the (European Trade Union Confederation) ETUC’s and PERC’s leaders’ and its affiliates’ coordinated and unwavering support,” he said.

“This makes me fully confident that once we could win this battle in Georgia, the victory can be repeated in any country and also internationally.”

More than 120 participants from around Europe took part in the third general assembly of PERC, an organization of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). PERC members also expanded the leadership team, a move Petriashvili supported.

“It is important that existing union diversity is turned into our advantage for deepening democratic development of labor movements across the region,” he said. “For this purpose, it will be a right decision to have more vice-presidents of the PERC as this will increase the interest and the level of involvement of different unions into PERC’s matters.”

Petriashvili was elected president of the GTUC in 2005 and began the democratization of the union movement. Before leading the GTUC, he headed up a union at the Tbilisi-based energy distribution company Telasi. Under his leadership, the union became a more vocal advocate for its members’ interests, and he even led a groundbreaking hunger strike that resulted in a contract that bolstered worker rights. In 1999, Petriashvili attended a course for young trade unionists, organized jointly by the Solidarity Center, the AFL-CIO and the International Labor Organization.

Earlier this year, the Solidarity Center launched a new project in Georgia focused on improving worker occupational safety and health and training workers in negotiating contracts and broadening unions’ ability to promote effective

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