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Release fee demand on workers ‘illegal’ in Oman
March 12, 2016 | 11:23 PM
by Rejimon K/ Fahad Al Ghadani
The ministry official agreed that domestic workers could challenge their employers if they felt they were being unfairly treated. - Times file picture
 
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Muscat: A black market in 'release fees' demanded by some employers to transfer domestic workers to new employers inside Oman is illegal, an official from the Ministry of Manpower.



Read also: Unlawful to hire domestic workers in Oman on social media sites

The so called 'release' money is requested either to provide a No Objection Certificate or when employers are asked to sign the transfer of sponsorship, the final step after formalities such as police clearances have been completed.

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“It’s not an acceptable practice. It is illegal. Employers can transfer a domestic worker but money should not be involved in the process,” the official said.

A legal expert in Oman also confirmed it was unlawful and said those affected could speak out, “It’s illegal. If the domestic worker feels to challenge it, then she can approach the labour dispute department and the court,” the legal expert added.

The ministry official agreed that domestic workers could challenge their employers if they felt they were being unfairly treated.

“If there is a dispute, even though the domestic worker doesn’t fall under labour law, he or she can approach for assistance from the government side to settle the issue,” the official added.

To bring in a domestic worker through a recruitment agent it will cost around OMR1,250 for a Filipino worker and OMR800 for Bangladeshi worker.

To bring a domestic worker from India, a bank deposit of OMR1,100 has to be made by the employer.

One recruitment agency described the charging of 'release' money as common practice.

“If an employer has to hire a Filipino domestic worker locally, then he has to pay at least OMR1,250 if he has brought the domestic worker through a recruitment agency. It’s a common practice in Oman,” a Muscat-based recruitment agency official said.

“As he has shelled out that amount to bring in a domestic worker, he will demand that money, even though it’s illegal,” the recruitment agent added.

Saud Salmi, a trade union leader in Oman who focuses on domestic workers’ rights, said that these kind of exploitative measures will result in bonded labour system.

“Whatever the exploitative condition it may be, NOC and release letter, will force a domestic workers to stick on to the same employer. Domestic worker hiring system should be changed. Workers should be given right to change the employer,” Saud Salmi, added.

Rothna Begum, a women's rights researcher on the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, said that the requirement that domestic workers must have the permission of their employer before they can transfer to a new employer enables employers to become abusive as they have a huge amount of control over their worker.

“In addition, this system also enables employers to require that the new employer pay them exorbitant amounts of money to a "release" their worker, can also be exploitative,” Rothna said while adding that such conditions can provide for forced labor conditions which is against international labor standards.

Vani Saraswathi, associate editor at MigrantRights, said that the very nature of Kafala in its current form is commodification of people and in the case of domestic workers this commodification is augmented even further as they are not covered under the labour law.

“They are completely at the mercy of their Kafeel/sponsor. We have also seen how this sponsorship arrangement is a business model for many, where they allow their workers to take up freelance work for an annual fee,” Vani said.

“The sponsor feels they own the worker and hence deserve to be paid for a release is telling. However, GCC states seem determined to not recognise how the current labor management system facilitates human trafficking,” Vani added.

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