Muscat: More than 250 trade unions have been formed to protect workers’ rights in Oman, according to the government body set up to monitor abuses.
261 trade unions have been formed in Oman since 2010 to protect the rights of both local and expat workers in the country’s private sector, according to the General Federation of Oman Workers, the body that represents and protects worker rights.
The unions have been formed in various sectors such as oil and gas, commerce and industry and tourism and construction, so to ensure that workers’ rights are safeguarded, enabling them to report any violations carried out against them by employers.
“We started in 2010, and since then, we have 261 trade unions,” According to an official from the General Federation of Oman Workers. “We used to be called the General Federation of Oman Trade Unions, but now we are the General Federation of Oman Workers.”
The official added: “The General Federation of Oman Workers is keen to foster the interests of all workers in the Sultanate, defend their legal rights, improve the conditions and situations of their work, raise the productivity of the workers, consolidate labour values, and promote social dialogue between the parties of production, be they government, workers or employers.
Nabhan Al Battashi, Chairman of the General Federation of Oman Workers, added, “Since the establishment of the federation, there have been 261 unions formed.”
The General Federation of Oman Workers has previously stepped in when required by employees. For example, in late 2018, the federation stipulated that employers who provide substandard living quarters for workers would be pulled up by federation. “Improving the living condition of workers is the obligation of the employer,” a spokesman for the General Federation of Oman Workers said.
“An employer has the option of providing housing to workers or he/she may give the worker a certain allowance for housing.”
“In certain companies, the employer is forced to provide housing allowance, in addition to providing accommodation; this depends on the nature of the work and the locatiom,” he added. “These standards regulate bathroom conditions, workers’ sleeping areas, areas designated for serving food, ventilation systems, and a space for changing clothes.”
Similarly, the federation also organises workshops with employees to know what their concerns are and how they can alleviate them. At a workshop held for women employees in the Sultanate who met with women’s committees of the federation, equal pay, child care, and maternity protection were among the issues raised.
Similarly, the General Federation of Oman Workers sits in on meetings concerning the implementation of mandatory health insurance for private sector employees to ensure that the policies in question are affordable and meet the needs of the workers
According to a report from the GFOW, titled ‘First Phase: 2014-2018’, which looks at the developments made by the federation during that time, there were only 182 unions in Oman in 2013. That number rose to 211 in 2014 and 237 in 2015, before dipping slightly to 235 in 2016, rising 242 in 2017, and 261 at the end of December 2018.
Trade unions that had been formed as of the end of December 2018 include those across the oil and gas sector, the industrial sector, the tourism sector, the education sector and the construction sector.
Muscat was first in terms of the number of trade unions in the Sultanate, with 48 percent, followed by North Batinah Governorate with 23 percent and South Al Sharqiyah with 14 percent. The top five complaints received by the GFOW during 2018 included non-compliance of companies over the labour laws, non-compliance over ministerial decisions, not committing to conditions of safety and vocational health, non-compliance with the labour rights and privileges of the workers, and non-compliance over wage payments.
In 2016, the federation reviewed 636 labour cases, said the report, while in 2017 there were only 558 cases. That number further dipped in 2018 to 479 labour cases. The GFOW also helped in solving 10,334 cases OF the termination of Omani workers between 2016 and 2018. Between 2014 and 2018, the GFOW paid 329 field visits to a number of oil and gas concession areas to ensure that companies were following the rules laid down by the government. In addition, they also made inspections across Oman. According to the federation's annual report , there are eleven members on the board of directors, who are elected in every four years by the trade union workers for both Omanis and expats. Should labour complaints fail to be settled by the parties in question, the case will be referred to Public Prosecution to guarantee the rights of both worker and employer.
Maimunah Shebani is the founder of The Retail Centre, an organisation that trains Omanis for jobs in the retail business. She is also part of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s tourism development committee, and was able to reveal the benefits of joining a trade union.
“I am currently working to start an Oman retail association,” she said. “We aim to be a group of professionals that wants to get together and help the sector. There is a lot of positive discussion around these trade unions. I was really happy to see that the unions are being formed now, and that people are open to this. It is really important that people understand how important it is to be part of something bigger.”
Shebani, who is also the OCCI’s retail sector representative for the services committee, and a board member of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres, added, “Being part of these unions mean that you are with people who have the same challenges as you, people who are in the same boat that you are. It is a great networking opportunity and you are all together as one voice. All the people in that union will agree on certain things, and this will help whatever sector you are working in. It gives that sector more prestige and importance.
She said: “The fact there are such associations shows how big the relevant sectors are. Professionally and personally, it has been great for me, and you also get so many opportunities to learn from being in a union. When it is a professional organisation, people always want to know what value you get from being in an association. You can become a very active member of such an organisation, and you can use it to develop.
“For example, the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres asked me how they could help me, and once I was able to tell them what I needed, they were able to connect me to the right people and it was a great mentoring opportunity for me,” recalled Maimunah. “I received a lot of support, and when I tried to train workers in the retail sector in Oman for the first time, I received plenty of assistance from the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres.
She added: “This really builds your credibility and it is a great support network, but it depends on how you use this opportunity, because the opportunity is not going to come. You need to create them, and help develop the environment you are in.”