Issue of Phosphate Workers: Intermittent and Incomprehensive Coverage

AKEED, Aya Khawaldeh

Local media outlets have not presented the issue of phosphate workers in a comprehensive manner. They only published, separately, the statements issued by the workers and the response by the chairman of the board of directors to them, as well as news about strikes and sit-ins by the workers and reactions to them. Thus, readers have not been made aware of all the details of the issue.

The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) has been following media handling of this issue since social media sites and some electronic sites reported on the intention of the Jordanian Phosphate Mines Company (JPMC) to lay off 2,000 employees and the response of the company to this issue and the ensuing reports about the strikes and sit-ins by the workers.

None of these outlets had all these reports gathered in one in-depth report, in which all viewpoints would be presented, while inquiring about the opinion of experts and interviewing company officials and striking workers.

The story began when Mohammad Thneibat, chairman of the board of directors of the JPMC, announced the company"s intention to carry out restructuring, control expenses, and redistribute manpower and technical personnel to production and processing sites to address losses.

Afterward, social media sites and some news sites reported on the JPMC"s decision to lay off 2,000 employees as part of the restructuring. The sites, however, removed or modified this news by publishing a press release issued by the JPMC and carried by the Jordan News Agency (Petra). In the press release, the JPMC explained that it had canceled the position of adviser, which has cost the company over 400,000 dinars for years without the people occupying this position reporting for work or providing any services, according to the company. Meanwhile, it denied reports about laying off 2,000 workers at company sites, saying that it would use their services at other sites based on job needs.

Other electronic sites reported on a Facebook page created by the workers, in which they expressed their anger at a number of decisions adopted by the chairman of the board of directors, key of which is terminating the services of 90 workers and technicians at the port of export, transferring 150 workers as a first group from Eshidiya mine to Aqaba, in addition to canceling the umra (minor pilgrimage) allowance and gradually lifting subsidy on workers" meals at company restaurants.

One site reported the positions of some members of the Lower House of Parliament toward these developments, while others published a report, along with photos, of the protests of the workers at the Industrial Complex after the issuance of these decisions.

The issue is still continuing in light of the talk about a strike by the workers and carrying out a sit-in in Aqaba and Eshidiya. The workers in Aqaba are demanding keeping their rights and canceling the decision to lay them off, while the Eshidiya workers are demanding that the decision to transfer them to the Industrial Complex in Aqaba be reversed.

Although the workers objected to the fact that the transfer decisions were confined to workers from Maan and the southern Bedouin region, while ignoring transfer requests submitted by employees living in Aqaba and working in Eshidiya, media outlets have not interviewed the relevant party to get a clarification or confirmation in this regard.

Suleiman Hawwari, head of the media section at the JPMC, told AKEED that none of the websites that published news about the worker strike contacted the company to get its viewpoint of the issue. He added that the company had incurred financial losses and that it could legally do restructuring and transfer employees to other sites based on its best interest. He confirmed that the company has not issued a decision yet to transfer workers from Eshidiya to Aqaba and that this subject would be discussed after Eid al-Fitr.

Ahmad Awad, director of Jordan Labor Watch, which is affiliated with Phoenix Center for Economic Studies, told AKEED that Jordanian print dailies provide excellent coverage of issues of labor policies in general. However, they do not pay attention to worker needs at these companies and often side with owners and managements. This includes the JPMC. He explained that "these major companies are advertising establishments, and the print media relies heavily on advertisements."

As for website coverage, according to Awad, some sites get advertisements from companies; therefore, they do not stand to gain if they report on the viewpoint of workers. Other websites do not have a share of the advertisements. This is why they spoke about the issue in a manner that is neither neutral nor professional. Awad says that the power of advertising plays a big role in the volume of the coverage and its repetition, trend, and reporting of all views.

With regard to the recent problem that faced some workers of the JPMC, Awad confirmed that the daily newspapers adopted the viewpoint of the company and its management and did not heed the demands of the workers. This has prompted the General Trade Union of Workers in Mining and Metal Industries to adopt the same view. Therefore, many of the local media outlets could not find a voice that speaks in the name of the workers.

AKEED tried to contact Khalid Fanatseh, president of the General Trade Union of Workers in Mining and Metal Industries, several times via telephone and text messages, but there was no answer.

The AKEED Monitor would like to stress that follow-up is one of the important standards that govern the performance and professionalism of media outlets, especially in such issues that are of interest to a large segment of society. Media outlets must follow up on events and not be satisfied with initial reports. They must also examine the repercussions of developments and publish in-depth reports. This is in line with a set of standards developed by the Monitor