MUSCAT: A special court to deal with labour disputes will be set up this year to minimise the time it takes to resolve cases, a senior official at the Ministry of Manpower said.
“We hope it will be set up this year itself. A lot of correspondence and discussions are happening with the Ministry of Justice as the court will be coming under their authority,” Said bin Naser Al Sadi, advisor to the Minister of Manpower, said.
“We are aware that workers, both Omanis and expatriates, have to wait for a long time to get their grievances addressed. We want to minimise the time. We don’t want a worker to be stuck with legal issues. So, we are working seriously to set up the court. Different government offices are working on it.”
While 2017 has begun with optimism, with the oil price stabilising and Oman’s State Budget being praised for its measures and the Tanfeedh process progressing, it will take time for improvements to filter down into the economy.
Meanwhile, according to a legal advisor in Oman, the number of labour disputes are rising due to the difficult conditions.
“Every day, we get labour dispute cases. Some are related to no-objection certificates and some are about delays in salaries and layoffs,” MU Solomon, the legal advisor in Oman, said and added that a special labour court will be a time-saving one for both parties.
Blessing for labourers
“Stranded workers fighting a case against their employer without a salary and many a time even without proper shelter and food is a pathetic situation. A special labour court will be a blessing for those who are stuck in labour-related legal issues,” the legal advisor added.
One Indian worker, who came to Oman in 2014 September, told the Times of Oman that he had to file a case in October 2015 claiming his dues, and he has been fighting for it since then.
“When a court gives a verdict in favour of me, the company will file an appeal. It keeps on going. I asked for my five months unpaid salary. Now, for the last 15 months, I am stuck in Oman without shelter and food,” he said.
“Many a time, I don’t even have money to go to the court for the hearings. Sometimes, I have to walk all the way to court alone,” he added.
Shameer PTK, a social worker in Oman, said that number of labour dispute cases are increasing in number, and delays are also hurting the workers.
“In the labour disputes department it will take 30 days.If it is not settled there, it will go to court. There, there would be at least three hearings, which will take a year. Then if the court gives a verdict in favour of a worker, it will be challenged in the appeal court. There too it will take time and when the final order is announced, its execution will again take time,” Shameer said.
“If the government is working on a special labour court, then it is an appreciable move, but it should be done soon so that workers are not stuck in a difficult situation,” Shameer added.
Recently, to avoid delays, the Ministry of Manpower had introduced an online complaint system to help the workers.
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said that a labour court for migrant workers in Oman would be a huge step forward for the rights of workers.
“We hope 2017 will be the year that these rights are realised. Migrant workers in Oman deserve a labour court that quickly addresses employment issues. Case numbers are rising each year, and the sooner a labour court is in place, the sooner we can address workplace rights for all workers in Oman,” the ITUC chief told the Times of Oman.
Meanwhile, Mohammed Al Farji, a trade union leader who regularly attends meetings with the ministry, said that if setting up of an exclusive labour court is delayed the government should activate the Tanfeedh proposals made on resolving labour issues.
“There is a discussion going on to empower the labour dispute departments. Even if it is activated, it would be a blessing for the workers. We stand for and fight for an exclusive labour court. But if that is getting delayed, government should listen to the Tanfeedh proposals and empower labour dispute departments for speedy redressal of labour related grievances,” the trade unionist said.
According to Tanfeedh findings, the average length of labour disputes in Oman is 585 days and they have proposed to bring it down to 204 days, which is, on average, a 30 per cent reduction in time. Mohammed Khaldi, a trade union activist in Oman, said that a lack of speedy redressal mechanism is hurting workers.
“Without doubt, we can say that employees are the ones who suffer. Those who do not wish to be entangled in the fight are forced to accept injustice,” Khaldi added.