Workers in Oman, and migrant workers in particular, are facing more and more problems of various kinds due to shortcomings in the country’s labour laws. The Omani Centre for Human Rights has contacted a number of workers who have suffered unfair dismissal and other infringements of their rights to find out more about some of the key issues:
There have lately been several mass labour protests led by workers who have been dismissed from their jobs without prior notice or even reasons being given.
Under the Omani Labour Law, an employer can terminate the employment of an employee who has committed acts considered by the Law to be acts of “gross misconduct” without having to pay damages. In some cases the Law actually says that the company need not provide notice or pay the end-of-service gratuity either. An act of gross misconduct can include, for example, using a false identity, intoxication or assault at the workplace, or continued absenteeism.
The Law also says that an employer can dismiss an employee without prior notice if the employee commits a major violation of his duties as agreed upon in his employment contract, but it doesn’t define what constitutes a “major violation”. A law firm advising foreign companies notes that employees who are terminated, for whatever the reason, are increasingly petitioning the courts for unfair dismissal compensation and/or re-instatement. However, they have to prove that the termination was unfair, and if an employer claims it was for an act of gross misconduct, and follows the correct procedure, it can be very difficult for the sacked worker to prove otherwise.
Workers, especially those in the oil and gas sector, pay 7% of their monthly salaries into a social insurance fund, yet there is no social protection for them in the event of their being arbitrarily dismissed.
There are as yet no dedicated labour courts or tribunals, so employment cases are normally heard in the civil courts, which can take months or even years, leading to mounting debts and financial problems for the workers affected.
Article 37 of the Omani Labour Law, which permits either party to terminate an employment contract after giving written notice to the other party thirty days before the termination date, is seen by workers as a gross violation of their rights. The government has so far refused to amend the Article despite calls from workers, syndicates and unions for it to be annulled or amended in such a way as to honour workers’ rights.
The OCHR has learned from a reliable source that thousands of different oil and gas companies workers have been dismissed to date, some of them received six months’ pay in compensation (though only their basic allowances, not their salaries in full) and were not offered alternative employment. Others were rehired to do other jobs but on less favourable terms and lower pay, sometimes 50% less than their previous salaries.
The Labour Law grants trade unions the freedom to conduct their activities without any party interfering or seeking to influence their work, but the current Minister of Manpower issued a ministerial decree (No. 294) in 2011 banning strike action or calls for strike action in establishments which render general basic services to the public, or in oil installations, refineries, ports and airports. According to Article 1 of ministerial decree No. 17 of 2007, general basic services also include education, jails and civil aviation.
Migrant workers in low-grade jobs are exploited by being forced to do overtime without extra pay, and many of them have suffered arbitrary dismissal without compensation or being found alternative employment.
As regards workers’ rights in general, however, recent years have seen a growing awareness among workers, despite all the measures taken by the Omani authorities to perpetuate the exploitation of both local and foreign workers, to avoid granting them their rights in full, and to give employers the upper hand. But exposing the violations and abuses taking place may do much to put pressure on the authorities and their unjust laws.
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