It has often been stated in the press by representatives of His Majesty's Government and their media
Only, its not.
So, where is the line between employing a foreign national on terms few of us would ever put up with, vs 'normal for Oman' exploitation, vs effective modern-day slavery?
Photo: The life of a housemaid in Oman can be sometimes brutal. Who's responsible? Image ripped from Desert-69.blogspot.com
Take this story I recently received from a concerned relative of a Filipino housemaid who just arrived in Oman.
Dear Mr. Dragon,
My cousin is a female filipino, 35 years old, single, and has 8 family members here for her to support. She is working there in Oman as a domestic helper.
The Filipino agency here does not allow her to photocopy her signed contract here, they only gave it to her before she boards the plane for Oman. Her contract with her Filipino agency is $400 a month(*) and a day off a week, but when she got to Oman she is made by the Oman agency counterpart to sign another contract stating she is not permitted any day off and her monthly wage is reduced to $200. Her employer works at a bank.
She is not allowed to have a cellphone, use the phone or use the mail.
Her employer's wife seized her passport. Her employer told her that Omani law said that without a passport any foreign worker will be put to jail if she goes to the embassy.
She said her employer is good to her but her daily work hours are 5am to 11pm, 7 days a week. She is being paid 85 rials per month.
1. Should a person sign a foreign agency contract in Oman even is he/she has already made a contract in his/her home country agency?
2. Should the contract stated that he/she must have a salary 50% lower than written on his/her original home country agency contract?
3. Should his/her passport be seized by his/her employer?
4. Should he/she be deprived of communication the outside world and a dayoff?
5. In Oman are the above question is legal? If illegal what should he/she do and what Omani agency can help his/her problem?
Thanks for your kind consideration.
This situation is, I'm afraid to say, not uncommon in Oman, and I blogged about this just last year.
Note: The labour Law (in English) can be found abridged here at the Kerala Monitor or in full here from the Ministry of Manpower. (A hint though, there's a great catch!)
Lets first look at the issues point by point.
While it is a recent Filipino law that their citizens must earn at least US$400 a month, this foreign law is not recognised in the Sultanate of Oman (or any other GCC nation). **This is why her employment contract in the Philippines stated the magic minimum of $400 bucks. An MOU between the Omani and Indian Governments last year agreed minimum wages for Indian Maids to be 75 rials (~US$180) a month. This has not been done with the Filipinos as far as I am aware. She shouldn't have signed the new contract, but I can understand why she did. Even the UAE has agreed minimum rules for Filipino domestic staff, agreed back in 2006. There minimum wage is $200 a month with mandatory 1 day off a week that cannot be overtimed.
2/ Confiscating of passport.
Technically, this is now supposed to be illegal in Oman. However, it is both common practice and accepted as totally reasonable by pretty much every Omani I've spoken to, including the Police and the Ministries ("But they might run away!"), and as there is no actual penalty described in the legislation for breaking this particular law, it makes it a rather pointless law, to say the least. (Oh, wait, except for the Foreign Ministry being able to absolutely & honestly state to the US State Dept and the ILO that passport confiscation is illegal in Oman! Silly Dragon!).
3/ 7 days a week, 18hrs a day...
This is also illegal under Omani law, and yet alas, is also not an uncommon practice. The difficult part is - who enforces this law? Statutory minimum is 1 day off per week, but I'm not sure how this is interpreted (with respect to shifts in the interior for example). So it may be that law interprets this as some kind of yearly average requirement, so if you get 40 days off in one lump + overtime, that counts. Legal eagles out there - any guidance?
4/ No passport + show up at Embassy = jail.
I would have seriously doubted this is true. But... in the Muscat Daily just today was a story (page 2) where it was stated that for 40 'illegal' Indian migrants who didn't have identification "As of now, all of them are under detention." Detention sounds a lot like a nice way of saying 'in jail'.
5/ Parasitic Lying Exploitative 'Agents'
This is a sad reality across the undeveloped world and the Gulf. Fellow locals of people in say India or the Philippines dupe desperate people into believing that a land of high wages and easy living awaits them in the Gulf. These are often illiterate and rather naive people. These agents proceed to charge them sometimes thousands of dollars, which they usually have to borrow from relatives or even loan sharks. Omanis are also charged by the local counterparts of these agents to get a maid, who site recruitment expenses and of course, airfares and visa charges. Both parties - expat and Omani - are getting totally ripped off by these unscrupulous parasites and their Omani sponsors. I have no idea why comprehensive laws to control these 'agencies' have not been implemented. And these are just the ones who actually do put them into jobs as domestic workers. The super nasty ones of course sell them straight on to pimps and brothels.
OK, so what does the law say? 'One law to rule them all' and all that good stuff.
Well, for a start, lets look at that nasty sounding 7 days a week, 18 hrs a day stuff.
Omani labour law, issued as per Royal Decree No. 35/2003
Workers should not be asked to work for more than nine hours per day or 48 hours per week. Rest interval should be given during working hours, provided that work cannot be continuous for six hours.
If a worker is asked to work more than the working hours, the employer should give him/her extra pay equivalent to his/her wage for the extra period plus 25 per cent or give a permission to be absent for the number of hours he/she worked, provided that the worker agrees to this arrangement.
Employer should give worker not less than 24 hours rest after six days of work. ...
Hey, excellent! So that seems pretty clear. Just the sort of thing one would expect for law designed "to control Exploitation of Expatriate Workers" (I'm not making this up).
But wait readers.
Oh oh. The law also states:
This law is not applicable to the armed forces, security and government departments and domestic servants such as cook or childminder.
So that's alright then.
It seems to me the ultimate Orwellian irony that a law named as being to prevent the exploitation of expatriats explicitly denies coverage to perhaps the most vulnerable expat workers in the entire country.
The crime here is that it is so difficult for these women to get access to information, to assistance, to a fair deal. That the law was expressly denied them. That there is no effective Government monitoring of them; in fact, the Government agencies generally reinforce their defacto imprisionment. The fact that we continue to allow unscrupulous agents to exploit these people.
I could rant on, but to what avail?
So readers, what should this woman do?
If she somehow manages to escape, she'll be an absconder. Her salary is after all just above accepted minimum for a 48hr week. How could she prove she's working 126hrs a week? Even if she gets to the embassy, what will happen? At best, deportation, back to a place where she still has dependents plus loans paid to an agent? At worst, a period of incarceration then being sent back to her "employer". And how would that work out I wonder?
Where are the NGOs who could help? Does anyone know?
What should she do?
What would YOU do?
But, obviously, this is not 'Human Trafficking' Mr Dragon. After all, she's being paid AND she apparently isn't even being beaten and molested! What responsibility would the Government of Oman possibly have in this? Why shouldn't we be Tier 2?
It's just a housemaid. And her employers no doubt paid good money for her.
Telephone Numbers for the Philipino embassy:
24605140; 24605143, 24805335; or 24605176.
(968) 99233596 (Mobile)