Jobs warning from construction bosses in Oman
December 6, 2015 | 9:28 PM

Muscat: Calls for a fresh rethink of the Sultanate’s visa system for expat workers have been fuelled by the CEO of the Oman Society of Contractors (OSC), who has warned that 55,000 Omani workers in the construction sector face an uncertain future.

Shahswar Al Balushi, the Chief Executive Officer of OSC, said that challenging conditions in the construction sector, made worse by the global price of oil, meant that businesses needed more flexibility to employ expatriate contractors, including easy transfer of employment visas inside Oman, and less demanding Omanisation targets.

“Out of the 200,000 Omanis working in the private sector, 26 per cent are in the construction sector. If the current conditions prevail, they will be losing their jobs,” Al Balushi said.

“How can construction companies continue to run if they are not getting workers? The sector is in a free fall. This is a worrying situation. While some companies are getting workers, many are unable to. It is affecting the projects. Long-drawn delays, at times for years on end, are having a drastic impact on the companies’ profitability and cash flow. Smaller companies cannot resist prolonged payment delays and they end up going bust,” the official noted.

However, a top official at the Ministry of Manpower said that contrary to belief, the construction sector is active. “The construction sector is active and the rate of Omanisation was decided years ago. We cannot backtrack from that,” Said Salem Al Saadi, the advisor to the Minister of Manpower, told the Times of Oman.

The CEO of the Oman Society of Contractors (OSC), however, said achievement of 30 per cent Omanisation at this moment is not a workable target.

“The target means that 166,521 skilled and competent Omani workforce should join the sector today. How is that possible when there are 142,000 active and non-active job seekers in the country, including 129,100 secondary school graduates and below? Of these, 87,200 are women,” the CEO of OSC said.

“We should work to reach the Omanisation levels, starting with 12 per cent in 2016 and increase it to 15 per cent by 2020,” the CEO added.

Omanisation rate

However, the minister’s advisor said the contractors are not obliged to achieve the Omanisation rate, but they are encouraged to do so.

“Some companies and SMEs have achieved it already. We aim to achieve that rate but the construction sector is definitely not disabled,” the advisor noted.

According to the OSC official, they had put up a proposal last April itself to restructure the visa system and save the market.

“Local transfer of Omani and expatriate workers should be allowed. If some company does not have a project and workers are stranded, the companies which have projects should be allowed to hire them. The procedures should be simplified,” the OSC official said, adding that they still have not received any reply from the ministry.

Meanwhile, one of the top officials at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) said considering the current economic conditions, the government should have a relook at the current manpower regulations.

“Industry is struggling, especially at a time when the oil price is down. The government should have a relook at the current practices in issuing work visas,” Mohammed Hassan Al Ansi, vice-chairman of the Committee of Logistics and Transportation Affairs at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI), said.

Two-year visa ban

Even though the OCCI official was reluctant to comment on the two-year visa ban for expatriate workers, the CEO at the OSC said he was wondering what prompted the government authorities to impose the two-year visa ban.

However, the minister’s advisor said the ministry does not have any say on this ban rule and the issue goes back to the DG of Passport and Residence, adding that they have their own goals.

Meanwhile, officials of the companies in Muscat said they are struggling to cope with the current situation.

“Projects’ expenditure is going up due to various reasons. In addition to this, oil price is slipping. We are neither getting affordable labour, nor receiving enough clearances. We are struggling,” Ahmed Hamoud Al Shabibi, managing director of Al Shabibi Global LLC, told the Times of Oman.

Another company official also voiced the same opinion.

“Projects are getting delayed due lack of workers. Recent raids to catch irregular workers are a factor that is also stopping us from recruiting them. It is quite difficult to deliver the projects on time,” an official from a construction company said. The OSC has proposed setting up of a new company which would serve as a hub to train and lease multi-skilled Omani manpower to construction companies.

A proposal sent to the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) by the OSC to create this new company, tasked with training and supplying Omani manpower in the construction sector, has been welcomed by the ministry and is being looked into.

Losing battle

The construction sector, while trying to achieve the required level of 30 per cent Omanisation, is fighting a losing battle since Omanis prefer to take up jobs elsewhere rather than in this sector, which they do not see as attractive for young Omani job seekers, largely due to the environment and the nature of the job.

Reporters can be reached at: [email protected]/[email protected]

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