MUSCAT, March 18 – In its continuing crackdown on illegal workers in the Sultanate, officials from the Ministry of Manpower have arrested 880 expatriates in a period of less than seven days. According to data by the ministry, Muscat Governorate registered a record number of 626 arrests followed by North Al Batinah with 78 during the period from March 10 to 16. Of the total number of arrests, 410 were for ‘freelance work’, 303 for leaving the sponsors and the remaining 166 for staying in the country without proper documents.
“The raids conducted in cooperation with Royal Oman Police and other authorities, are part of the efforts by the authorities to cleanse the labour market,” said the ministry official.
According to the weekly data, a total of 410 workers were deported last week.
“Most of the arrests and deportations were for violating different provisions in the labour law including residency permits. The raids will be intensified in the coming weeks,” the official said.
Commenting on the rising number of arrests, the official said that despite warnings, a large number of workers are still found to be doing jobs without proper work permits.
“Hundreds of the workers, who were caught during the raids, were not working under the sponsor whom they were supposed to,” he said.
Quoting the labour law, the official said, “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.”
Al Busaidy mentioned that the law will help address challenges facing the sector. It includes a number of provisions designed to safeguard Oman’s mineral wealth, while supporting its prudent and sustainable exploitation in advancing economic development.
“The law specifies the rights and obligations of investors in the sector. It also obligates investors to contribute to the development of the local community. It sets out criteria for identifying, appropriating and exploiting mining areas of economic feasibility and offering them for investment and development in a competitive tender based on the principles of transparency and fairness.”
Under the new law, PAM has the sole prerogative to offer mining concessions through public tenders based on competition, merit and fair play, he said.
According to Ziyad bin Ali al Balushi, Director of the Legal Affairs Department, the new law effectively introduces a new methodology governing the licensing of mining areas.
“We are currently preparing the procedures and regulations for the tendering and award of mining concessions, as well as guidelines designed to encourage investment in downstream and value-added processing industries,” he said.
PAM is also working at an accelerated pace to prepare the executive regulations in support of the new Mining Law, the official said.
The executive regulations will set out the rights and obligations of the investors, developers and other stakeholders that are party to any concession. The regulations will also spell out the tenures of concession agreements, royalties and other levies payable, and developmental commitments to the local community.
“While the law features many provisions to encourage investment in the sector, it also stipulates penalties for actions detrimental to the sound commercialisation of Oman’s mineral wealth,” Al Balushi added.
For example, those found engaging in mining activities without a valid license are liable to prison terms ranging from 1 to 3 years, in addition to fines extending from RO 20,000 to RO 100,000.
It stipulates that all mineral resources, quarry materials and other related mineral wealth within Omani territorial limits, encompassing even Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf areas, are the property of the state, which shall be safeguarded, and only lawfully exploited for economic development.
Ownership, possession, exploitation and disposal of this wealth shall be governed by the provisions of the new law, he added.
Similarly, he said, 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. Referring to the so-called ‘freelance’ workers, the official said that there is nothing called ‘free visa’ issued by the government.
“Employees are not allowed to work under an employer other than the one who is permitted to bring them into the country. Until 2009, they were free to work anywhere after paying a fee to their sponsors. But now the law bans such free movement of workers,” he said. “It is illegal to hire a worker without proper documents from the authorities concerned,” said an official at the ministry.