Muscat: Some rogue company bosses are reportedly abusing the absconding worker system for expatriate workers, say victims, community leaders and legal advisors.
Under the system, employers in Oman can file an absconding case against an employee if he or she fails to turn up for work without giving any formal notice. If an employer has to file an absconding case, he has to approach the authorities, including police. However, community leaders and legal experts say that some companies are misusing the system to dump workers or to avoid paying overdue salaries.
AH Raja, Vice-Chairman of Pakistan Social Club, said some sponsors are declaring their workers absconding if the workers ask for pending salaries.
“Some small companies are finding it hard to pay the salaries, and when the workers start to demand the pending salaries, the companies will start filing absconding cases. We are getting these types of complaints,” the official from Pakistan Social Club said.
Times of Oman has uncovered cases where the employee was forced to approach authorities to prove that he is not absconding.
Suresh Kumar (name changed) an Indian expatriate in Oman is running from pillar to post to find out whether his company has filed an absconding case or not.
“When my company terminated me on baseless reasons, I filed a case against them. When the company officials were pulled up by the court, they came for a compromise. Now, they are ready to settle the issue but they asked a little more time claiming that they have to remove an “absconding case” filed against me,” Suresh said.
“It was a surprise to me. I am very much here. They terminated me and in a week after getting the termination letter itself, I filed a case. How can they say that I am absconding?” Suresh, who is now clueless on how to settle the cases, asked.
Suresh’s case is not an isolated one.
An American expatriate woman told Times of Oman that her husband, who had to leave the country on emergency leave, was marked as an absconding case by his employer.
“My husband was employed by a company here in Muscat. Recently, the company was facing financial hardships due to the economic downturn, and when he went on emergency leave to take care of a family matter, his boss reported him as an absconder and cancelled his visa,” she said.
“He had been given verbal permission to go, but instead of being an act of generosity, it turned out to be a convenient way for the company to reduce their costs by dismissing him without any of his benefits.
“This goes to show how essential it is to get every single thing in writing when it comes to employment here in Oman,” she added.
Ahmed Al Hooti, a member of Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called on companies and business owners to refrain from such practices.
“In the end it is a humanitarian issue,” the OCCI member said, adding: ““My advice to companies and business owners is to follow the law and refrain from such practices because in the end it is a humanitarian issue.”
“The employer and employee might have a mutual agreement. Instead of filing a termination, the employee might have asked for him to be filed as absconded as he leaves the country for the employer to avoid making any payments.”
According to a legal advisor, the current Omani Labour Law has no provision on how to deal with a worker who is missing and also on filing an absconding case against the missing worker.
“However, employers can approach the government authorities to file an absconding case,” the legal advisor said, adding that they have to go to police, then publish an advertisement in a newspaper and then update the Ministry of Manpower and the Public Prosecution.
The legal advisor said that expatriate workers are complaining of the ministry accepting absconding reports from employers without checking the credibility of allegations.
“What we request is that prior to accepting the absconding case, the authorities have to study thoroughly to know whether it is a false case or not,” the legal advisor said, adding that elsewhere in the region, if a false absconding case is filed, the employer will be prosecuted, penalised and forced to pay a hefty fine and the company will be blocked from the ministry list.
In December last year, the Ministry of Manpower implemented an online system to file absconding cases.
An official from the Bangladesh Embassy in Oman said people going on leave should take permission from sponsors officially.
“If they have the leave sanction in writing, then the company can’t declare the worker as absconding,” the official said.
A few Omani sponsors hoping to cash in on expatriate workers registered under them sometimes allow the employees to work on a freelance basis in return for a fee, often as low as OMR20.
If the worker fails to pay, he or she risks being reported by the sponsor as an absconder.
Oman’s Labour Law Article 114 stipulates that whoever employs non-Omanis without having a licence will be punished with a fine of not less than OMR10 and not more than OMR100.
The amount of fine shall be multiplied proportionately with the number of where violations are committed.
Such an employer shall, at his own expense, pay for his or her own repatriation. Further, the employer will not be allowed to bring into Oman any non-Omani employee for a period of not more than one year.
A non-Omani employee who works in the Sultanate without a licence from the government department concerned, or works with any employer other than his or her sponsor shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding one month and punished with a fine not exceeding OMR100 or by one of them.