Muscat: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has labelled a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report which likened the role of domestic workers in the Sultanate to slavery as unrealistic and unfair.
The commission explained in a statement that the National Centre for Statistics and Information’s (NCSI’s) records show there were almost 2.02 million expats in Oman as of May this year. The data also showed that the number of domestic workers in Oman is almost 144,700. The commission stated the report, based on the accounts of 59 maids, did not paint a true picture.
Instead of publishing a negative report without cooperating with the National Human Rights Commission, HRW could have alerted the commission about cases of human rights violations in the Sultanate, the commission added.
However, HRW had ignored the commission’s role in the settlement of such internal matters as stated in the complaints’ procedures in accordance with the text no. 1503, which was imposed by the World Human Rights Council regarding the role of national human rights institutions.
Mohammad Al Khaldi, a trade unionist in Oman, said: “The violations are from both sides, housemaids and employers.”
“If the authority concerned doesn’t come across violations, it could be because there is no clear and easy way for housemaids to report their issues to them. It happens everywhere,” he added.
“Such people come from their countries with no idea about manpower, trade union or labour law neither the necessary number to contact the official for the redressal of their grievances,” said Mohammad Al Khaldi.
“The system should not only report problems but also raise thoughts of housemaids to find a better atmosphere for work. Such a situation forces housemaids to abscond. We can’t just criticise the HRW report because they interviewed absconding housemaids. We can’t only blame those housemaids but also think of the reasons for absconding,” the trade union leader said.
“People don’t respect or maybe don’t know the rights of such workers. therefore, they neglect their rights. I am not talking that all employers deal with housemaids in the same manner. No there are many who respect their rights. Oman Human Rights Commission’s role is not only to defend Oman but also to search issues and try to solve them,” he added.
“The commission criticised the way the HRW conducted the report which is true but at the same time its is supposed to do the job in the right way and conduct studies on housemaid issues and find proper solutions. The problem begins from the agencies hiring housemaids as they deal with such people as items placing a large number of housemaids in small rooms and offer employers to chose from them. Recently, I received a call from a housemaid who came to Oman to work as an airline crew but was shocked to know when she was given to an employer as a housemaid,” said Al Khaldi
He added: “She could report her issue because she was educated but how about the others who are illiterate. There should be a joint effort from the ROP, Ministry of Manpower, Trade Union and Human Rights commission to educate such people from the time they step on the airport. They should provide them with the booklet in their languages explaining their rights and duties and also provide them the emergency numbers to report any violations.”
“The Trade Union believes that there are violations in the Sultanate but the number doesn’t make it as a phenomena. The commission also said it is keen to meet with the organisation’s officials and discuss various topics as a recent meeting was held on June 1 in which the commission confirmed that Omani law ensures the ability of expat workers to file a lawsuit and get legal advice without paying any fees.
The statement explained that the HRW report addressed absconding housemaids’ opinions about the situation in the Sultanate, which had raised many questions, such as why did such workers not file a lawsuit against their employers?
The statement added that the report does not represent reality and it is not sufficient to call it a phenomenon as only 59 maids were interviewed out of at least 130,000 maids in the country.
“The report looked at the issue from one angle, which is the violation of the employers and neglected the other side,” the statement pointed out.
It also explained that the report did not address the violations committed by the housemaids. Oman is ranked 13th globally for its acceptance of expats and ease of living, according to the Expat Insider Report 2015.
The HRW could have also paid much attention to the title of their report “I Was Sold”. It is more sensational. The origin of the case that the title of the report is based on, did not initiate in Oman but in a neighboring country. This is slavery and the legislations, the people and the government of Oman shun and disapprove this act.
The amount of money that people pay, goes to cover expenses of manpower agencies both in the receiving and sending countries, and is solely paid by the employer. These expenses include air fair ticket, administrative work of manpower agencies in sending and receiving countries and insurance. The relationship between employers and civil workers commences once the contract is signed.
The Ministry of Manpower insures that manpower agencies follow necessary guidelines, however, domestic workers might receive deceiving information from outside the country. The OHRC has witnessed in the recent years the possibility of direct contact between the potential domestic worker and the potential employer before the eyes of manpower agencies. This practice clears the confusion and satisfies the interests of both parties before the worker even arrive to the country.