Monday, April 6, 2009

Expat Labour in Oman

Nosyguy gave such a great comment on the expat imprisonment plan posted earlier I wanted to respond properly. (You should read this post first if you're new I guess).

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.

BUT

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.

19 comments:

  1. Hi Dragon- good discourse on a complex subject. However, one phrase I didn't understand was "an occasional wastafarian like T3." Maybe its because being here in Sohar I am out of the buzzword stream, but that one went over my head. Please explain. Abd

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  2. Thx OmVi- got meaning of rastafarian from wikipedia. Assume "Vitamin W" is for the ever present Wasta, but what about "T3"? Abd

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  3. I know of Filipna, Indian and Sri Lankan working in hotels with little time off, sometimes no day off, no public holidays and unpaid overtime. They also have the convenient visit visa!

    I took one hotel to court when my then girl frind, now wife was 'told' to work longer and unpaid overtime. Shge was then subjected to intimidation for refusing. She recorded the threats (dictaphone) when taken to the office.

    All was denied of course but we won the case and got much more than we expected. As as result of that I had total faith in the Omani justice system and how they dealt with that hotel. Sadly, it's still happening today.

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    1. me also working in oman since 6 year. i didnt got any day off hollidays etc when i was gone a medical leave they didnot pay my salary.
      plz halp me what i shud to do now ???
      thnx a lot

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  4. Abdullah,
    I was indirectly referring to the snide comment made by TI3GIB supporting the idea of exit passes. http://muscatconfidential.blogspot.com/2009/04/more-government-idiocy-being-considered.html#comments

    He's got a chip on his shoulder that's so big he has to have an NRI to carry it for him!

    OV
    Thx!

    DA
    Thanks for sharing the story. It does seem that Omani judges are pretty independent, and certainly the decisions I've heard of tend to support the applicant employee in labour disputes, even when they are expats.

    The issue is more one of access to courts and the attendant delay, cost, etc. It's hard for me to imagine that some Galfar manual worker or Indonesian nanny would feel empowered enough to take a case to court...

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  5. UD, You are correct in your assumptions there and if civil litigation really existed Galfar would be long gone and broke!

    I do have experience as an expert witness in UK and apart from that I'm just a dogged person who doesn't like the small or weak person being taken advantage of. We prepared and explained our case clinically and chronologically which made it easier and quicker to deal with. Most of the cases they get are badly prepared and built on memory!

    I was very impressed by the Omani Labour Court during the innitial hearings, they made it clear the opposition had no chance and were arrogant beliving we would not go this far!

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  6. UD thanks for the response which draws me into a quagmire of personal memories of being engaged in philosophical discourse under the provocation of my erstwhile tutor. We don’t need to be disingenuous or bore your readers with too much arcane analysis but I detect that your comments are soggily grounded in the version of historicism which Karl Popper wrongly accused Karl Marx of espousing (mind your footing in that quagmire). Unfortunately your kind response also allows me to give my self permission to post a further comment which may be more in the nature of a conversation between the two of us. I have no obvious vested interest in this issue (beyond wanting a peaceful and prosperous Oman) and I apologise to your readership but, elsewhere, this is one common style of blog conversation.

    The actuality of how we treat expat labour is not necessarily inefficient, immoral, hypocritical and unconsidered. It is reasonable for rule changes to take account of existing local interests, be generally conservative and protectionist in nature and not be driven by a liberal western view of ethical imperatives
    You note that “there would be a transition period”. Omanisation is a transition period. In some views even Nation States are a transition period - pending Obama’s delivery of universal peace. In the meantime Foucaultian New Historicism, as applied to understanding socio-economic contexts, would caution a Government to settle issues within the frame of reference that currently entangles them. Tread carefully and look after business at home. Of course it is probably best to avoid being too short term, but it is also dangerous to allow the juggernaut of history to crush your own people in the false belief that some change is inevitable because there is an unavoidable gravitational pull of certain trends or ethical values. Pain in the immediate future is justified in the name of an anticipated future benefit. This is the seductive cry of revolution. For the ordinary person, how often does the ‘obvious’ future benefit melt away? Simple history shows that this is common. The Terror after the storming of the Bastille? Starvation following the end of European Feudalism and the introduction of wage labour and following the abolition of slavery in the American South? The degradation of ordinary people following the Russian Revolution and more recent, partial fall of the Soviet Union and the Independence of Zimbabwe? People holding their own passports may not cause immediate mass starvation but exit permits may not mean the reintroduction of slavery in Salalah’s sugar cane fields.
    “One's behavior should be subject to an absolute as well as a relative measure.” What is this absolute measure? Is it found in the values of Protestant Ethics and the spirit of western capitalism? Are these values universal and internally consistent, will they inevitably dominate?
    “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.” As I suggested in my previous comment this may drain national revenues and mean much higher costs to the consumer but it may also require more freedom of labour movement across borders.
    “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.” It is the small/medium size of local business that is most at risk from the financial hole created by staff who do not complete contracts. For these businesses the ‘loss’ of a single employee can mean closure or payment of rent, other staff etc for non productive months while permission to recruit is applied for – and perhaps never given. 3 months notice is only ‘enough’ if replacement recruitment is allowed and sponsors do not carry proxy obligations for ex staff.
    “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. …operated by trained and skilled Omani”. Tell this to a young Omani businessman who has unsuccessfully hunted for Omani workers with skills or the will to acquire them, and then reluctantly resorted to recruiting an expat worker (with all the costs of visa, training, flight…etc) for planned delivery of a two year contract.
    Omanisation has not yet completed the task of delivering a sufficient supply of skilled workers with the values to increase productivity in the way that you describe. In the meantime…. it may not be unethical for some protectionism to operate in the labour market. Depends on the ethics, political objectives, context and timescale.
    “You can think of the human rights improvement as just a side effect of good economics if you like……. 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.” Tell this to the young man from the subcontinent who can only offer his willingness to use picks and shovels in another country as his chance of feeding his family.
    “Needlessly exploiting vulnerable people is neither ethical, nor good business…...” Who can disagree with this tautological statement? However what is meant by ‘needlessly’. Prior to the Utopia, all wages could be described as needless exploitation of the vulnerable. Most workers, of whatever rank, are imprisoned by the continuing need to earn. Unless we are all Capitalists or Communists we could all be described as vulnerable and alienated from the fruits of our labour. Conversely we could also be described as free individuals able to make informed decisions about where and for what reward we sell our labour and with the moral integrity to keep to employment contracts.
    It may not seem so but my sympathy is with your view that it is best business to treat all workers with fairness and respect – with common sense limits. Bumps on the playing field have to be leveled with minimum disruption to play. Profitable business operates competitively at the micro level and it does not make sense to wantonly lower workers’ morale or your attractiveness as an employer. However accepting employment is rarely the same as joining a country club. An employer who effectively pays more than the competitive ‘going rate’ will be out of business unless extra productivity is achieved.
    This is also true at the macro level. Oman is in competition with other economies. Paying more for labour than others who compete in the same pool may only result in regional wage inflation and be one way of exporting oil revenues (as opposed to building infra-structure, skills and education, healthcare, national security etc.). The Gulf has a number competitive advantages. These include petrochemicals AND location near some international sources of relatively cheap labour. Why should these advantages be thrown away as “unfair”? In addition Oman has chosen to place a premium on the development of National Human Resources. One stage of this development strategy has involved limiting some foreign access to citizenship and residence. If we are all free citizens of an open world this may be viewed as morally wrong. If we are citizens of competing nation states, at different stages of development, with different aspirations and resources, then it may make moral sense for Government to protect the tender shoots of education and skill development amongst their own people. There are dangers of engendering a dependency culture but a nation has the right to judge this an acceptable, temporary risk. There are also dangers of being accused of unfairness towards migrant workers but a nation has the right to judge this an acceptable, temporary risk.
    My theme is that it is too easy to ignore local context. Dragon is far from arrogant but when he soars overhead and looks at us poor creatures on the ground perhaps his lofty view is a selective appeal to the ‘inevitability’ of certain changes. He may be tempted to assert the exclusive supremacy and efficacy of some ethnocentric values whilst ignoring their contradictions and dysfunctions as guiding principles. It is especially easy as he may be a spectator able to fly away. Why should my friends toiling in the hot sun play the game shackled by rules that have frequently failed or been ignored elsewhere?

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  7. It's not just Oman, read todays BBC Middle East page on their site about Dubai, shocking reading.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_7981000/7981320.stm

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  8. Noseyguys: Your last posts looks like Vasantha Vaikunt's column "Art of living" in Times of Oman, which no body reads. Please be short and sweet.

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  9. Dear Just Curious
    Fist paragraph: "I apologise to your readership but, elsewhere, this is one common style of blog conversation." - I was not sending a text msg.

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  10. NoseyGuy

    Listen. I don’t make a habit of this. But this time, OK.

    “...thanks for the response which draws me into a quagmire of personal memories of being engaged in philosophical discourse under the provocation of my erstwhile tutor.
    UD: This is not a specialist sex blog Nosey (that’s Savage Love), but thanks for sharing.

    We don’t need to be disingenuous or bore your readers with too much arcane analysis
    UD: Yet you demonstrably proceed to do so… Ah, academia…

    but I detect that your comments are soggily grounded in the version of historicism which Karl Popper wrongly accused Karl Marx of espousing (mind your footing in that quagmire).
    UD: They aren’t. This is not some intellectual philosophical problem anyway, but instead real people are getting, in some cases, needlessly fucked over when we could easily do something about it. This is real life, not a tutorial…


    Unfortunately your kind response also allows me to give my self permission to post a further comment which may be more in the nature of a conversation between the two of us. I have no obvious vested interest in this issue (beyond wanting a peaceful and prosperous Oman) and I apologise to your readership but, elsewhere, this is one common style of blog conversation.
    UD: Not here. I proceed to selectively edit because everyone else is already bored senseless..
    ….
    “One's behavior should be subject to an absolute as well as a relative measure.” What is this absolute measure?...
    UD: Lets start with easily accepted absolute standards. The 1926 Slavery declaration. The International Convention on Human Rights, and, the Omani common law, which explicitly commits to fair treatment under the rule of law for all Omani residents, Omani and Expatriate, employer and employee.
    …. Blah Blah Blah…
    My theme is that it is too easy to ignore local context. Dragon is far from arrogant but when he soars overhead and looks at us poor creatures on the ground perhaps his lofty view is a selective appeal to the ‘inevitability’ of certain changes. He may be tempted to assert the exclusive supremacy and efficacy of some ethnocentric values whilst ignoring their contradictions and dysfunctions as guiding principles. It is especially easy as he may be a spectator able to fly away. Why should my friends toiling in the hot sun play the game shackled by rules that have frequently failed or been ignored elsewhere?

    UD: One of the Dragon’s competitive advantages is that I fly low enough to know many things outsiders don’t know, yet high enough and removed enough to perhaps offer a perspective on things that are of value (and independent of your fantastic local media and that strong tradition of open Government and intellectual public debate based on rationality, the mathematics of logic, and the science of hypothesis vs evidence).

    Thanks for taking the time Nosey. But this isn’t university. I’m surprised you want to be an apologist for anyone who would treat fellow human beings the way people are being treated in the UAE, and perhaps here too.

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  11. Undercover Dragon- I am currently trying to acquire a contract in Oman to work on a golf course project there. I am a professional in the golf course construction industry and have been for 24 years. I am in need of specific information about the project and the sponsorship for a work visa there. I have been reading many of your blogs and sense that there may be some issues with regard to contract labor there. The developer of the project is BCC1 ( Blue Chip Company). What are the requirements for obtaining a work visa in Oman? I am a professional and would like to be treated as such if I am able to acquire a contract there. What is the current atmosphere concerning companies upholding their contractual agreements with foriegn professionals in Oman?

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  12. Hi Dragon,

    I have a question for you, if we are currently working for one company, can we change the job to a competitor, even if in the original contract between the employee and the employer there is a clause of non-competition by saying that for 12 months we cannot work for other competitor and if yes, then there will be a fine of USD500,000 on either the new employer or the employee direct. Also, this contract is not authorized according to omani labour laws

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  13. Dear sir,
    I have a Request regarding my concern. my brother has been working in oman for the past 14 years. last year, he started a construction company and invested a huge amount under the care of an arabi.13 members from India were working in the company as contract labours for two years. at present, my brother was tortured to death by the Arabi and was sent by force to India. now the workers are facing much problem and want to leave oman. two of them returned to india and now they are torturing us. we are in need of justice. what shall we do now? how to register a complain in this matter

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  14. its happening injustice to workers working in jindal shadeed iron and steel oman sohar, workers are not paisd with their overtime since january 2011, even the overtimes paid before were paid unaccountably..even today company is exploiting workers by giving defective cirrulars and naming their own circulars as oman law. they cheat workers saying that this is according to oman law, none of worker is raising his sound upto ministry bcoz of fear of loosing his job, justice is expected on the land of oman, justice is expected for the workers working as slaves....they are exploited under name of oman labour law, but oman labour law differs from the law shown by company. some of the peoples even though completed 8-9 months not given the permanent letters, not even notice for extension of probationary period....all thye eyes of workers are awaiting for justice..for justice...for justice

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  15. hi i am a employee of allied business corporation who suffer lot as per Oman rules a labour and staff should be given yearly once paid leave and visit our home lands are very complicated here we have to pay 250 and then leave to our country.......as we are paid very less salary we are unable to pay the cash.....we stay back with no option to considered even the transportation is not provided in proper way ...........even though thursday is annoounced as a compulsary off but we are not granted off more over even though we work they are not paying for it...........i beg some should take strict action and save us please............

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  16. any one have any idea about the deauty time and off of nurses in privet sector. they ar getting still one day off only .that also calculated, night off

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  17. any ide about privet sector nurse'sweekly off. they still getting one off onle and that includes night off

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