COVID-19: New plan to protect worker rights in Oman

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Muscat: Proper compensation for workers who’ve been terminated due to the economic impact of COVID-19, flexible working conditions and days off for pregnant mothers employed in Oman are among the new changes being proposed in Oman’s Labour Law.

These amendments to help Omani workers were suggested by the Majlis Al Shura, whose Youth and Human Resources Committee said changes needed to be made due to the pandemic, the low oil prices, and the resultant impact on workers in the Sultanate.

Younis bin Ali Al Mandhari, the head of the committee, said, “There have been many problems between workers and employers, with lots of instances of layoffs, termination of services and unfair dismissals. We have discussed this problem with the relevant authorities to provide solutions, and in the last month, we submitted this report to the Majlis Al Shura, who provided its approval and will send it with the required recommendations to the Council of Ministers. In 2014, a draft of the new Labour Law was submitted to the Council of Ministers, which saw the participation of three parties in its creation: the Ministry of Manpower, the workers, and companies. The Omani Labour Union and the International Labour Organisation were also involved in editing it.”

“When we studied the Omani Labour Law, we found there is a legislative vacuum in the current labour law with concern to laws regarding worker termination, as the articles of this law do not solve the problems of those who’ve been laid off, or have had their services terminated,” he explained.

“What I mean is that if workers have been terminated because a company has incurred financial losses, or has stopped operating because it has no more projects, or wants to decrease their staff, the current law says that both the worker and the employer can go to a court judge if they cannot agree on suitable compensation, and the judge will most likely rule to compensate the worker for just three months.”

“But what about after those three months?” he asked. “How will he get a job and sustain himself, given that he may have a family, loans, debts to pay and other obligations. Who will take up responsibility for these things? There is presently no real solution, and for this reason, we hope that the changes we propose will enable three parties – the workers, the company, and the ministry – to meet, and discuss real solutions by amending articles to the current Labour Law, or add new sections that the law requires.”

Oman’s current Labour Law was issued in 2003, but the market has since experienced major shifts, which led to individuals and groups of workers facing problems with their employers, with the law unable to keep pace with the current labour situation.

The vision of the Youth and Human Resources Committee was drafted into suggestions, owing to the need to review the law in line with the developments taking place, especially in light of the coming industrial revolutions, based on Article 58, section 36 of the Basic Law of the State and Article 128 of the Shura Council’s internal regulations.

Explaining the sections that needed attention, so as to provide proper workplace compensation and benefits to employees in the country, Al Mandhari said this would impact large numbers of people. “These will include articles the law needs, in case workers are laid off or terminated, and will include rights to special leaves for mothers and pregnant women in the private sector, in a manner similar to the government sector, if not the same benefits as received by public sector employees.”

Adding to this, Sultan Humaid Al Hosni, a Majlis Al Shura member of the Wilayat of Khabourah in North Al Batinah Governorate and a member of the committee, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic and low oil prices provide the biggest reasons for the need to review the Labour Law, as this has led to many consequences that have affected companies and workers alike.”

This has led to the laying off of workers, their services being cancelled, and unfair dismissals. Consequently, it became necessary to urgently reorganise and revise this law by changing or adding other sections to cope with the current changes in the market, to ensure private sector workers’ rights and privileges are the same as those of public sector employees.”

Al Mandhari added that the Majlis Al Shura had requested in previous sessions that the draft of the new Labour Law that was proposed in 2014 be passed into law, but a result on this is still awaited.

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