172 workers abscond on daily basis

MUSCAT, July 2 – An average 172 expatriate workers flee their employers daily in the Sultanate amid crackdown by the authorities. Although the figure is based on the number of workers declared as absconding in the previous years, it may be more in the following years, say experts. According to data, there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of workers leaving their sponsors with whom they are obliged to work. This is evident from the rising number of people being rounded up by the authorities in different parts of the country, they say. “Most of the absconding cases refer to workers who enter the Sultanate on the so-called free visa and those who ‘jump’ the sponsor to make quick money by doing odd jobs,” said an official at a manpower recruitment agency.

Similarly, he said, “Owners of some companies also declare their workers as absconding when they fail to provide them with jobs.” According to data from the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), 63,000 workers fled their employers in 2016 compared with 60,000 in 2015. Clarifying that there is nothing called a free visa in the country, an official at the Ministry of Manpower said, “Expatriate workers cannot seek jobs under an employer other than the same sponsor who brought him/her to the country.”

Under Oman’s laws governing foreign labour, each expatriate must be tied to an Omani sponsor and must work exclusively for him or her.
According to Article 114 of Omani Labour Law, a non-Omani employee who works in Oman without a licence from the directorate concerned or works with any employer other than the employer who obtained a licence to bring him to the Sultanate, shall be punished.
An employer who allows any of his workers to work with another employer shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month and a fine not exceeding RO 1,000 for each worker.
Legal experts familiar with the labour system in Oman say many workers are declared as absconding for no mistakes committed by them.
The Omani labour law demands that an employer file an absconding case against a worker if he/she doesn’t turn up for work without prior notice of leave, either due to illness or any other reason.
At the same time, the employer should approach the authorities, including the police, to lodge a complaint against the employee.
“In several cases, small companies and individual sponsors file absconding cases when they fail to pay them regularly or for other reasons,” said a legal expert.
Similarly, there are a large number of ‘free visa’ holders in different fields, including construction.
“Owners of rogue companies, in connivance with middlemen in the respective countries, collect a lump sum amount, bring workers to the country and let them work anywhere they want,” he said.
They charge a ‘monthly fee’ of not less than RO 10 a month from each employee.
While ‘free visas’ are lucrative for sponsors, workers also enjoy some advantages till the time they are caught by the authorities.
Experts point out that the free visa workers can work according to their whims and fancies.
In some cases, they get more amount of money than what they would earn with a single employer.
To escape the manpower registry, sponsors help them open bank accounts and transfer a fixed amount in the form of salary to these accounts.
The ATM cards of the respective accounts are retained by sponsors so that they can withdraw the amount later.
Recently, the Ministry of Manpower, in cooperation with the Central Bank of Oman, made it mandatory for employers to pay workers’ wages through banks.
With a database in the system in regard to the payment of wages, the ministry will get automatic updates of salary transfers from employers to banks.

SAMUEL KUTTY