Muscat: Some workers in Oman are living on the street without food for up to two years because employers are delaying or failing to turn up to dispute hearings.
Employers failing to attend settlement meetings at labour dispute departments and the cases moving to court is leaving employees in the lurch, say trade union leaders, social workers and embassy officials.
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“In the current mechanism, employers are not bound to attend the settlement meetings convened to resolve the labour dispute. So, most often they don’t turn up. Eventually, the case is forwarded to court and the stranded worker who will be struggling for daily food and shelter will be neck deep in trouble,” Shaji Sebastin, an Indian social worker and resident of Oman for the last 30 years, told Times of Oman.
In Oman, three employee-employer meetings are held over a 45-day period to help settle disputes at the Ministry of Manpower’s labour dispute departments.
If the employer fails to turn up for the meetings and even if they appear and fail to reach a consensus over the dispute, then the dispute will be forwarded to court for ruling.
According to Shaji, since the introduction of the two year visa ban and related regulations the dispute cases are on the rise and those who dare to question the employer’s decisions are left alone to struggle in Oman for years.
“Pravesh Sha, an Indian tailor, had to fight without shelter and food for two years because he approached the labour dispute system and later on the court to get his unpaid salaries,” Shaji added.
“Parvesh has won the case in his favour a few months back. He is waiting for the judgment to be executed,” Shaji said, adding that Parvesh’s case is not an isolated one.
Mohammed Khaldi, a trade union activist in Oman, said that they face such situations regularly and undoubtedly we can say that employees, the vulnerable ones, suffer.
“In many cases, to get a dispute settled it may take at least two years. Those who don’t want to get tangled in the fight will have to accept injustice,” the trade union leader said, while adding that the current mechanism should be revisited by the government and setting up of labour court should considered seriously.
Saud Salmi, chairman of the Oil and Gas Trade Union in Oman, said that it is vital to find a mechanism to resolve the issue.
“Employers not turning up for meetings and time taken in courts will hurt the employees a lot who are already in trouble. Government should consider this issue seriously and find a solution,” Saud added.
Mohammed Farji, another trade union leader in Oman, said that they have urged the ministry in the past to look into the issue seriously.
“If an employee wins a case in the court where the employer had failed to turn up in the labour dispute department, then the employer should be penalized,” Farji added.
A senior embassy official from one of the migrant sending countries said that they have raised this issue with ministry officials earlier and have requested a solution.
“When employers fail to not turn up at the labour dispute department, the dispute goes to court causing trouble to the stranded worker. We have discussed the issue with ministry and they are planning to set up a tribunal where the cases can be settled before going to court if the employer fails to turn at the labour dispute department. We are hopeful that this may happen soon,” the official added.
Meanwhile, a senior official at the Ministry of Manpower said that currently there is no such system to take action against the employer who fails to attend the dispute settlement meetings at the labour department.
“However, the employer failing to turn will be noted while the case is heard in the court,” Said Salem Al Saadi, the advisor to the Minister of Manpower, told Times of Oman.
In April, the advisor had said that a special court dedicated to settling labour disputes in Oman is to be created.
“The process is underway. The ministry is keen on protecting workers’ rights and it always works for the welfare of workers,” the advisor added.
At present, Oman doesn’t have a dedicated court to deal with labour disputes, which are currently handled in the general courts.