Mervat Al-Jumhawee

Role: Advocate for migrant workers and workers’ rights
Active in Country: Jordan
DTP Alumna: 2016 Regional Workshop on Ethical Business and Recruitment Practices in Labour Migration - Dubai, UAE

Mervat lives in the north of Jordan in a city called Irbid, where she grew up and lives with her family. After Mervat finished high school she wanted to work in the garment sector and help support her family. For the next twelve and a half years she worked for a company in the garment sector in the industrial city near Irbid. Being an independent and self-reliant woman in Jordan is not easy. Women in society are still dominated by the opinions and the expectations of men and families. Working in the garment sector exposed Mervat to the difficult circumstances migrant workers and Jordanians face in the factories. She became involved with other workers trying to improve the working conditions and lives of workers.

There are 27 000 women migrant workers working in the industrial city. Most come from Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Nepal and other Asian countries. The women are recruited with promises of good working conditions and high wages. The reality is different. They are exposed to harassment and abuse, low wages, poor working conditions, huge dorms with no privacy, unhealthy meals and a general lack of health protection and security at work. Migrant workers are not familiar with their rights in a foreign country and often don’t know who to turn to with their problems.

After over 12 years in the factories, Mervat started to work for the trade union. She dedicated her work especially to the issues of the migrant workers. Mervat’s colleagues in the trade union had focused on the working conditions of Jordanian workers. The union gave her the chance to raise her voice for migrant workers.

When Mervat started, migrant workers were not told about the existence of the trade union nor where they could find its office. Mervat changed this. Her work and her achievements are impressive.

Everyday Mervat goes to the dorms and the Cafeterias of the factories, she listens to the problems and concerns of the migrant workers and tries to help where she can. She goes to the hospital with injured workers, mediates conflicts and strikes between the workers and the factory managers. Echoing the language of slavery, migrant workers who leave their jobs before the end of their contracts are labelled “runaways”. When they lose their job, they lose their immigration status and are deemed to have broken the law. Mervat helps them to return home safely.

A defining early experience in the trade happened at a Cafeteria of a factory. She went to the Cafeteria to meet the migrant workers, but the factory manager told her to leave. Mervat felt helpless and disappointed and walked out of the factory. As she walked out, she noticed noises behind her and turned around. She saw a big crowd of workers walking behind her, signalling their appreciation of her work. Mervat felt overwhelmed and thankful. After a few weeks she was allowed to visit the factory again. The factory manager had realised how valuable Mervat’s mediation and communication skills are. This experience empowered Mervat to continue.

Responding to the evidence of abuses of the migrant worker in the garment factories, the International Labour Organisation established their Better Work Program. Unfortunately, Mervat's focus on women migrant workers was not supported by her union - dominated by men and a focus on Jordanians. Mervat now works in the Migrant Workers Center - and in the future, she wishes to open her own migrant workers centre to favour the migrant workers well-being without any working constraints as an employee.  

DTP’s courses have connected Mervat with other people working in advocacy and she has learned from their experiences. The trainings have also connected her with activists from the migrant workers' country of origin. She has learned about the reason for migration and how to network with activists from the sending and receiving countries. Building up such a network between activists from Jordan and the countries of origin has been very valuable for Mervat’s work. It has also helped her in organising safe returns for migrant workers, and for the remains of workers who have died in Jordan. Mervat is now a valuable contact point for advocates for migrant workers in countries of origin.

In the future Mervat hopes to receive more training on how to work together with the government in Jordan but also the governments of the countries of origin and how she can put pressure with other activists on governments to achieve an improvement of working conditions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made life very difficult for migrant workers. They are working for no salary at the moment and are isolated in their industrial cities. Hospitals and doctors are far away, shops like pharmacies are closed, the transport system is shut down and there is not enough food. Social distancing in big dorms is difficult and workers who are sick face very difficult circumstances.

Due to the country’s lockdown Mervat could not go and see the migrant workers in person in the industrial cities. In order to keep in contact, she has had to work over the phone which is very difficult. After one and a half months working from home, Mervat has now returned to the industrial cities to help. She is distributing food, going to the hospital with sick people and is helping where she can.

 

I am deeply impressed by Mervat's work and wish her all the support she needs to pursue her path. Someone who dedicates their life to help others must have a deep love for humanity - Laura Trueb (DTP Volunteer)

Profile written June 2020.