Muscat: Workers across Oman are facing serious salary delays with some waiting almost a year for wages.
The hidden pay freeze is cutting across all sectors, with workers reporting salary delays in the health, the IT sector and in construction.
Under Omani law, it is illegal to withhold a worker’s salary for more than seven days after the due payment date falls.
Get your essential daily briefing delivered direct to your email inbox with our e-newsletter
In the current economic downturn, many companies are feeling the squeeze, while others are blaming lack of government payments for their inability to pay up.
Many workers are living off Iftar meals at mosques and find themselves unable to pay rent. Social workers say there has been a spike in the number of desperate people who, despite putting in the work, have been left penniless by their own employers.
Abdul Razaq, an Indian coffee shop worker, came to Oman seven months ago with dreams of making a better living. Now he spends his nights at a mosque in Manah as he couldn’t afford to stay with his sponsor. His salary has not been paid for the last six months and he depends on iftar handouts for his daily meal.
“Without a salary, how can a person survive? As salaries got delayed, I approached the labour dispute department. Now, the file is stuck there. I am tired. I came with dreams. Now, I am ready to go back empty-handed. Even for that, I have been told to pay money. As it is Ramadan, I can get some free food in the evenings, but earlier, I had to struggle a lot,” Razaq added.
Razaq’s case is not an isolated one. There are many.
Workers in different sectors in Oman claim salary delays ranging between five to 10 months.
A Times of Oman investigation found that hundreds of workers at a hospital in Salalah, dozens of workers in an IT company in Muscat and dozens of workers in a construction company in Ibri are struggling to make ends meet as they have not been paid for at least five months.
“I have been working in an IT company for the past year. Our salaries are not paid on time and some are not getting for four to five months at a stretch. People are suffering a lot here. Some are newly married, some have debts and some have parents and siblings to take care. We are taken for a ride here and getting mentally harassed. Our health is also deteriorating,” a senior official from the company, who has also not been paid for months, told Times of Oman.
“The company is getting ample money from its customers but these people are rotating the money in shares and other investments, and they are waiting for the returns to come so they can pay us the salaries,” the official added.
A construction company worker in Ibri, who declined to be named, said that he has not received salary for eight months and is fighting a case for his wages in court.
“I was not getting salary for months. They kept on giving us false promises. Finally, I approached the court. I got a verdict in my favour, but they went to a higher court. Now, the case is there. I hope it will end soon,” the worker said.
“Without salary life is horrible here. Finding some money to buy food itself becomes a herculean task,” he added.
A senior official from the Bangladesh Embassy in Oman said the number of salary delay cases are going up. “Even though we can’t quantify, sure, we can say that it’s going up. On average daily, two to three cases come to embassy,” the senior official said.
“Today 100 workers came with a complaint of salary delay. We have advised them to approach the labour dispute department in Ruwi. Similarly, there is a case of 50 workers on same issues going on in Salalah court,” the official added.
Mohammed Khaldi, a board member of the General Federation of Oman Trade Union (GFOTU), said that there are several cases of salary delay coming to GFOTU.
“Delaying salary is in violation of Oman labour law and is also against humanity,” the trade union leader said, quoting Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) saying that employee wages have to be paid before his sweat dries.
“The cases are up when compared to the previous year. The cases are mainly related to migrant workers. Workers who are not getting salary must notify the competent authorities in the Ministry of Manpower as well as the trade union. They must not remain silent about their rights and the laws protect everyone,” the trade union leader added.
Shameer PTK, an Indian social worker in Oman, said that on average he comes across four to six cases of salary delay.
“I can say that there is an increase. However, as I don’t keep a record, I can’t say how much the increase is. Some come in group and some are individual cases,” Shameer added. Recently, a senior official at the Ministry of Manpower said that nine companies out of 25 were referred to public prosecution for delays in paying the salaries of their employees.
“The Ministry of Manpower has referred nine out of 25 companies, which had been warned earlier to adjust their legal situation for delaying the issuance of salaries,” said Salim Al Badi, director general of labour welfare at the Ministry of Manpower.
Article number 51 of Chapter One, Part Four of the Labour Law, states that workers who are appointed for payment of monthly wages shall be paid their wages at least once every month. It also mentions that the salary must be paid within seven days from the end of the period in which it becomes due.
The Labour Law also states that whoever violates the provisions of Chapter One of Part Four shall be punished with a fine not exceeding OMR100 and the fine shall be multiplied by the number of workers, who are the subject of the violation, and the penalty shall be doubled in case of repetition of such violations. A number of senior officials and workers at a construction company also told Times of Oman that their salary has been delayed for eight months.
“I am at a managerial position. I have not got salary for the last eight months. Same is the case for others too. Even my accountant has not got the salary for the last eight months. We all have filed a case. We won it in the lower court but the company had appealed in the higher court. Now, the case is there,” the company manager said.
“We senior officials can somehow survive, but, the blue-collar workers are the ones suffering. They survive on money found through donations,” the company manager added.
There are 28 workers, including officials, stranded in the company, which has shut down its office a few months back leaving the employees in lurch.