Fairwork Jordan: Phenix Center joins the Fairwork network to monitor working conditions in Jordan’s emerging platform economy

Posted on 09.02.2023
A busy street in Amman, Jordan
A busy street in Amman, Jordan (PC: Shutterstock)

The Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies has joined the Fairwork Network to rate and score platforms in Jordan.

The country’s economy, one of the smallest in the Middle East, faces challenges such as an expanding budget deficit, chronic unemployment and underemployment. The ability of Jordan’s economy to generate new, decent jobs is limited. Further, its labour market remains inaccessible for many groups due to global economic conditions; the COVID-19 pandemic; demographic factors such as high birth rates and refugee influx from neighbouring countries; as well as existing cultural challenges. Economic participation rates—the number of people actively working or looking for work—are low in Jordan, and unemployment rates are high, with no signs of improvement during the last decade.

In 2022, the unemployment rate stood at 23.1%, with great disparities between the status of female (33.1% unemployed) and male workers (20.5%). These statistics, however, only include those formally employed and registered with social security. Many workers in the informal sector, including the platform economy, are not covered by these statistics.

During the last few years, Jordanians have been increasingly using digital technologies for service-related tasks, and the market for platform services has subsequently grown. Jordan needs these types of jobs to fill the gap between the available workforce and the number of available jobs. However, working conditions are often precarious in platform-enabled work, and platform companies receive disproportionate service payments. Moreover, workers’ contracts are largely designed to exclude them from social protection schemes.

This new type of work needs to be better monitored and regulated in Jordan. Firstly, platform workers who substitute their income with application-enabled work fall outside the scope of social security protection. Workers receive neither health insurance nor compensation for risks to occupational safety as Jordanian law does not allow one person to register for social security with two jobs. This means that, in practice, the platform job is often unregulated. Even though there have been recent initiatives to change this law, a final proposal was ultimately rejected. Secondly, Phenix Center’s Labor Watch programme has monitored several other infringements on decent work standards among platform workers including violence against workers, arbitrary cuts in payments for delivery staff, and insufficient support during the COVID-19 crisis. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that platform drivers who accept card payments seldom receive them on time and, as such, have started to refuse customers who pay by card. There is an increasing sense of frustration with these conditions, and strikes among platform workers have become common, even though they have not unionised. Surprisingly, media coverage of these issues remains limited, making it difficult to know the plight of platform workers. Phenix Center aims to do exactly that: generate evidence-based advocacy to improve working conditions for platform workers.

This monitoring is crucial precisely because the platform economy has the potential to create jobs and improve the living conditions of Jordanians. Of particular significance, transportation apps contribute greatly to the ease of movement and, therefore, of economic participation. The lack of safe transportation is often cited as one of the reasons why women do not work.Thus, creating safe ways for women to enter the transportation platforms could achieve the goals of 1) improving female participation in the labour market through direct job creation and 2) increasing women’s sense of safety while commuting. In addition, platform-mediated cloud work can potentially increase the low economic participation rate for women in Jordan. As per tradition, many women and their families prefer that if women work, they do so from home, allowing them the flexibly to accomplish varying duties in the workplace and at home. Other vulnerable groups could also benefit from decent work conditions in the platform economy, such as people with disabilities for whom it might be harder to find safe and viable jobs in the traditional economy.

It must be ensured that these opportunities for income generation, labour market inclusion of vulnerable groups, and women’s economic empowerment are met with appropriate decent working conditions and financial gains for workers to positively contribute to the nation’s economic development and sustainability. Phenix Center’s action-oriented research will make a significant contribution to improving the living conditions of platform workers in Jordan.

Phenix Center’s Fairwork team is led by Ahmad Awad as principal investigator, together with Anna Sting, Marah Abbas, Vivien Kuehnen and Morad Kotkot as research and project team.