‘I speak up for those who can’t’ – Global Issues

“I left home for Bangladesh to work at a garment factory in Jordan six years ago, I don’t know what the future holds. But I took an unexpected step that changed my life.

I’m 19 years old. My father owns a small fruit shop in Dhaka and my mother works at home sewing and selling clothes. There are six of us in the family. We can hardly afford to live.

I thought I could financially support my family by working in Jordan. I also hope to save money to go to college.

The first time I arrived, I worked as a receptionist at a factory in Irbid. When I returned home from the end of my contract, I discovered that my father had cancer and our family’s financial problems were getting worse.

In addition to my native language, Bangla, I am fluent in Hindi and English. So, when I returned to Jordan, I worked as a liaison officer at a garment factory in Sahab, helping managers and workers communicate better.

Maya Aktar dines with migrant workers.

© ILO / Wael Liddawi

Maya Aktar dines with migrant workers.

From pond to river

One day, I met Arshad, an organizer in the General Trade Union of Textile, Garment and Clothing Workers. He explains what a union organizer does.

I told Mr. Arshad that it would be a dream come true for me to have the opportunity to help other workers and speak up on behalf of those who couldn’t.

To my surprise, Mr. Arshad contacted me a few months later, asking if I was interested in the position. I agreed.

It has been released. I am like a fish living in a pond floating in a river. I am honored to represent migrant workers.

Being fluent in multiple languages ​​and being a good communicator has allowed me to represent and help many workers who speak only their mother tongue.

Bridge between employees and management

I started my work as a union organizer in November 2020.

One of my top priorities is to identify problems faced by migrant workers and find solutions through open lines of communication with garment factory management.

At first, arranging meetings with workers was a challenge because of their long working hours. Many people are also hesitant to open up, even with representatives from Bangladesh. Some feared losing their jobs and there were managers who advised them not to cooperate with union organizers because they thought we would cause problems.

But I am determined to make sure these workers get their voices heard. I promised them anonymity and met them outside of their workplace to help them feel comfortable enough to express themselves.

Some workers do not know how to present their complaints, and others avoid talking about their problems for fear of punishment or losing their jobs.

For example, some workers were retained by their employers after their contracts ended, but then forfeited their right to return home airfare or bonuses at the end of their contracts. Others have asked me about my experience of sexual harassment. Some reported delays in receiving their pay or arguments they had with their supervisor.

Maya regularly sends money home to help her family in Bangladesh.

© ILO / Wael Liddawi

Maya regularly sends money home to help her family in Bangladesh.

Most workers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and other countries do not speak or read Arabic or English. When instructions, notices and financial documents are in these languages, it can cause problems for workers. Being fluent in multiple languages ​​and being a good communicator has made it possible for me to represent and help many workers. I feel proud to be able to help them overcome these language barriers.

I have also attended various training programs run by Better Work Jordan, covering issues such as sexual harassment in the workplace, effective communication, personal hygiene, collective bargaining, working conditions and labor law. These trainings have positioned me to be an even better advocate for women and migrant workers. Helping and empowering migrant workers has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Under COVID-19 limited, I cannot hold face-to-face meetings with workers and have to rely on phone calls to see how workers are doing. During the shutdown, many workers wanted to return home but could not travel because the airport was closed. I had to explain the predicament and give advice to these workers, who are often stuck in Jordan.

Look forward

Helping and empowering migrant workers has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Being able to be their representative gives me a sense of purpose and pushes me to keep moving forward.

I am also happy to be able to continue sending money back to my family in Bangladesh and feel proud of my representation to other Bengalis.

I plan to become a trainer so that I can help more migrant workers. I also want to do a degree in psychology, this will help me understand people better.

I think my success as a union organizer is a success for all of us migrant workers in Jordan. ”

A version of this story first appeared on the site of our colleagues at the International Labor Organization (ILO).

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