Can Oman labour reforms catch on in the Gulf

Can Oman labour reforms catch on in the Gulf

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by Sharan Burrow
The tale of two Gulf countries is a real puzzle. Oman and Qatar both are petroleum-rich, with roughly 1.7 million migrant workers. Here the similarities end.
My first visit to Oman this month showed me there is a pathway to reform the kafala system which enslaves migrant workers. And their laws don’t discriminate between Omani workers and migrants.
Union representation is firmly established in the private sector with the internal democracy that allows workers to elect their leaders.Social dialogue is seen to be increasingly important. The head of the Oman Chamber of Commerce says disagreements are normal and that without dialogue to resolve them, both employers and workers lose. Remarkable if you compare that to Qatar.
And while there are labour camps in Oman that are isolated due to the company location and some that need upgrading, it is heartening to visit the humane accommodation.
Accommodation where migrant workers have their own rooms or share a large room with one other person. Where men and women can share a lounge. Where kitchens and bathrooms are functional and clean, and where there is access to attractive residential streets and shopping centres.
There are of course unsolved issues for both local and migrant workers.
Many companies still discriminate.
To stand next to a young woman worker from Myanmar and her elected Omani trade union representative as she describes her union backed two days off a week, shows the choice that Oman has made.
There are three differing contracts – for Omani workers; for migrants from the east and for western expats. The General Federation of Omani Trade Unions (GFOTU) deplores this practice.
The federation is also alarmed to see companies firing union representatives in what appears to be a blatant discrimination tactic, the latest being at Occidental Oman, a US company.
Recruitment practices are more transparent, but there are loopholes that need to be cleaned up. There is direct employment and many companies take responsibility. There are recruitment agencies but they are registered and subject to law.
Nevertheless there are illegal practices where employers will claim work, obtain visas and then charge workers a retainer fee for the privilege of being free to work with other employers. While this needs to be cleared up and unscrupulous employers must be prevented from charging fees for workers to change jobs, the fact is there is no exit visa. Workers are not trapped in Oman as in Qatar.
For domestic workers they need to be included in the labour law. The GFOTU argues that an independent government body to protect domestic workers is necessary, as is a domestic workers union.
Wages are an issue but there is a minimum wage for local workers. While migrant workers have transparent wage rates as well as food, transport and accommodation, there is work to be done to ensure equal treatment for all workers.
Respecting the rule of law is central to tripartite commitments to an improved labour law that’s pending in the parliament. In addition to guarantees that include non-discrimination, there is determination to see a labour court established with strong involvement of a tripartite committee.
There is a right of access for any worker to use the current system. But when disputes take up to a year to be settled, the need for a more efficient system is urgent.
In Oman you feel optimism and the hope of a shared future. In Qatar you feel discrimination, denial and a master-servant relationship.
Common region, shared cultures, neighbours – why the difference?
http://www.equaltimes.org/can-oman-s-labour-reforms-catch-on#.Vf6JN2Sqqko  via mfa network

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