Oman has introduced stricter laws to protect unemployed foreigners and expatriates from being exploited by their employers, in efforts to crack down on human trafficking and worker exploitation.
The state-run Oman News Agency reported this week that the government has introduced stricter penalties for employers and sponsors who allow their jobless expatriates to work for others. Employers are increasingly giving permission for their employees to search for employment elsewhere illegally following the failure of their businesses during the pandemic.
"Failed Omani business owners hit by the pandemic allow their foreign employees to seek all kinds of jobs all over the country," explained Ibrahim Al-Wahaibi, a former official in the Labour Ministry. "Under Omani law, the expatriates are still registered as their employees with the ministry but now work independently."
Although the issue sounds positive for expatriates as they have greater freedom to try to find work, the Omani government has clarified that they are in fact being exploited as they are underpaid in their new jobs while their official employers take a monthly fee in order to maintain their legal status in the country.
The penalties for such employers include fines and prison sentences. If caught, they face fines up to 150,000 rials ($475,000); the previous maximum was just 7,000 rials. They could also face a prison sentence of up to fifteen years rather than the previous three years.
Speaking to the UAE-based news outlet The National, a gardener from Bangladesh expressed his discontent at the strategy used by employers to make money. He confirmed its exploitative nature.
"These sponsors must send their former employees back home when they close their businesses and not collect money instead," said Hussain. "It is both immoral and illegal. It is a kind of slave labour to let them struggle on their own during this dangerous pandemic."
Some employers, however, condemn the stricter law. They insist that their intentions are good and that they neither force the employees to work nor do they engage in human trafficking.
One Muscat-based employer who had to close his car repair workshop due to the pandemic told The National on condition of anonymity that, "The government calls this human trafficking and I don't understand why. We ask them for money because they want to stay in the country. We don't force them. Yes, they don't get paid enough but that's not our problem."