Post-post addendum: And great to see Saleh now employed by a local paper, hopefully on a respectable stipend. He is def. the best Omani English reporter I've seen. We need a LOT more Omani reporters (and dare I hope, journalists too) in his vein.
The issues are captured, along with actual interviews with a couple of construction supervisors (although I'm not so sure naming them was a good idea). They point to the lax Government inforcement and inaction by workers' Embassies, as well as the unscrupulous and callous actions of local Omani building contractors.
Photo: Labourers in hazardous conditions are a common site across Oman. (from ILO, photographer P. Deloche
However, I would also blame the people employing these contractors. People, when you are having a new villa built, it's up to you to ensure the workers are well treated. Don't just shrug your shoulders and put it on the contractor. YOU.
Please step up and act - Insist the contractor adhere to the law. If necessary, call the Government officials and complain. Take responsibility. Let's see those oft-cited Omani cultural strengths of fairness to all, kindness, and moral values applied in your own back yard. These poor people are working for you.
If there was ever a case for an NGO to act, this would be a good one. It would be great to see more proactive stuff from the International Labor Organisation too: how about sponsoring some law suits for wrongful death and injury?
I also wish these workers would be allowed to properly unionise - they can't do that under current Omani law.
And well done ToO and Saleh. More please.
Contractors ignore labour rights
01 December 2010 09:59:55 Oman Time
MUSCAT: Construction labourers are still working and living in appalling conditions across the country as contractors ignore their basic rights while the government inspectors continue to turn a blind eye.
Little has changed in the past 40 years for labourers as most construction site workers still have to live in wooden shacks braving both the smouldering heat during the summers and the winter chill.
The hygiene conditions of most of these sites are non-existent with toilet facilities being just a hole in the ground, a few metres away (in most cases) from the kitchen and the living quarters. Construction debris is strewn all over the place, ranging from sharp brick fragments to rusting steel. Common complaints of the labourers are food poisoning, heat stroke, injuries and fall from scaffoldings.
After hard physical labour and working in hazardous conditions, these workers are paid a pittance. The monthly salary ranges from just RO80 to RO120 with free medical facilities but they have to fork out money from their pockets to buy their own food. “Nobody cares about their welfare, not even their embassies. All of them come from a poor background arriving here to earn money so they could look after their families back home,” Hussein Al Lawati, general manager of Capital Manpower Services, said.
Construction workers in Oman are mostly south Asians, including those who work for companies building bridges and road networks. According to the latest Manpower Ministry statistics, there are 900,400 foreign workers in the private sector in Oman, out of which more than a third work in the construction sector.
Lawati said that the number of labourers is a third of all foreign workers and the figure is increasing every year due to the construction boom fuelled by higher government spending. According to official data, there were 306,150 construction workers in the country by the end of August 2010, a rise of eight per cent compared to August last year.
With the effect of the global financial crisis diminishing, the government is expected to announce a record spending budget of $20 billion for next year’s expenditure buoyed by more oil exports and rising oil prices in the last two years. “The boom is supported by cheap labour and yet, we don’t look after the people who toil all day to help the progress of the country. The government must acknowledge it and make sure that construction workers are given their rights with inspectors regularly visiting sites,” Lawati added.
Prakash Menon, a supervisor of a construction site in Al Khodh, said that he lost a labourer last summer from a fall and another worker broke a leg after a cement mixing machine rolled over. “The summer heat is a big problem, apart from lack of safety equipment like a harness to secure workers climbing the scaffolds. Contractors are also reluctant to buy new equipment even though major accidents occur,” Menon, said.
Ram Kumar, another site supervisor, said that his workers regularly end up in medical clinics from heat exhaustion, food poisoning and breathing problems. The wooden shacks, Kumar pointed out, are a major cause of fire since labourers use them as kitchens as well as sleeping accommodation.
He pointed out at the slimy water accumulated at a corner of his site overflowing to the road. “It is toilet water and the contractor refuses to pay for the weekly removal of the waste water because he wants to save money,” Menon, said.
Lawati said it was about making maximum profit from the construction contracts where contractors cut corners and deny basic rights to their workers. “The biggest culprits are contractors of private villas. The only way it would work is for both the embassies and the government to work together to come up with a law that would punish offending contractors,” Lawati, said.