Thank you for the comment NG. I'll try to address some points.
"I am not an employer in Oman. I have no expertise or ambition to be an employment lawyer and the following comments are based on unease with the tendency to ignore a complex employment setting in pursuit of a PC cry of “free the workers!”
UD: Totally agree. Pragmatism rules in my handbook. Let me not be accused of being PC, please. Nobody is calling for anarchy here.
"...unintended consequences for all."
UD: I too am a big fan of the study of unintended consequences. It should be taught in schools! You are right, there would be a transition period required to effect significant changes or a degree of chaos would ensue. But still the goal should be set and moved toward, and meanwhile certain humane minimum standards can and should be enforced.
"...it is unfair to deride local employers as slavers without acknowledging that ‘sponsors’ can have considerable obligations for those that they sponsor. Contracts ... If workers are able to be in constant search for immediate improvements by changing their employer then this should be balanced by greater freedom of the employer to abandon contracts and to HIRE and fire."
UD: Unfair? Slavery? Read the definition from 1926... would there not be some in Oman who might be out of line with that declaration? And its 2009, not 1926.
One's behavior should be subject to an absolute as well as a relative measure. If you have to imprison your employees to do business I think there is something wrong with your way of doing business, even if its driven by the system. The obligation is on the employer to ensure their treatment of their staff, and the prospects they provide for the employee, enable them to properly protect that investment via retention. I'm all for hire and fire too.
And I don't think the way the cost of official paperwork inflates the value of someone who's just here and 'willing and able' to work, is an excuse either.
The obligations of employer and employee are expressed in employment contracts and law. .... [UD: + lots of examples of real obligations on sponsor].
Well, fair point. Sponsors DO face a bit of a hole financially and legally with the current system of visas. Contracts are OK if signed with awareness up front. But 3 months notice - no matter what the cost that you as an employer would face - is enough. If they walk to another employer on a 2 year visa, tough. Again, the underlying solution is to treat your staff better.
that would mean that OMANI staff would become more competitive in the labour market, with an overall higher cost per unit of labour. We must at the same time increase unit productivity by a greater amount, and then the economy will not meltdown due to increasd costs. The economy grows and living standards improve, but only if people want to pull their finger out and work.
Asking the Omani 'working class' to compete with pseudo-slave labour is anathema to real Omanisation. Enabling business to behave this way may be fine if your aim is to subsidise the business opportunities of an occasional wastafarian like T3, but I don't think it's fundamentally healthy or effective as a State policy on political, moral, social, economic, or security grounds.
Oman should not be about setting the bar low, but about working to where we can set it higher and higher. Replacing work that should be done by machines, operated by trained and skilled Omani, with a load of cheap manual labour from the subcontinent with picks and shovels just because you can is a problem, not a solution. You can think of the human rights improvement as just a side effect of good economics if you like.
Needlessly exploiting vulnerable people is neither ethical, nor good business. We should address the actualité of how we treat expat labour, not just the window dressing.