Oman trade union leaders have called upon the government to set up an independent body to protect domestic workers’ rights in the Sultanate and include domestic workers in the upcoming revision of labour laws.
“The government should constitute an independent body which can stand up for the rights of domestic workers in Oman. This will help them feel more secure,” Saud Salmi, a trade union leader in Oman, said, stressing their vulnerability to abuse.
According to government data, as of July 2015 there were 168,808 migrant female workers in Oman out of which 136,907 are employed in households.
Mohammed Al Khaldi, board member of General Federation of Oman Trade Union (GFOTU) referred to the many cases of domestic worker abuse he has encountered, and adds, “If the government comes forward for setting up an independent body for these workers, it would be of great help..”
“Majority of the cases are of non-payment of wages. Last year, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries discussed unified job contracts, but it didn’t materialise. At least the Omani government should initiate this, fix a minimum wage for domestic workers and show an example to others,” Mohammed added.
GCC status check
A few months ago, Kuwait’s National Assembly had passed a law regulating the labour rights of domestic workers.
“We can say that Kuwait’s parliament has taken a huge step forward by providing domestic workers with enforceable labour rights for the first time. It would be welcome, if Oman also follows Kuwait’s lead and protect the rights of domestic workers,” Shaji Sebastin, Muscat-based social worker said.
The new law in Kuwait grants domestic workers the right to a weekly day off, 30 days of annual paid leave, a 12-hour working day with rest, and an end-of-service benefit of one month a year at the end of the contract, among other rights. The law suffers protection gaps and weak enforcement mechanisms.
Bahrain’s 2012 labour law affords domestic workers annual vacations as well as access to mediation in labour disputes – but it fails to provide other basic protections, such as weekly rest days, a minimum wage, and limits on working hours.
Saudi Arabia adopted regulations in 2013 that grant domestic workers nine hours of rest in every twenty-four, with one day off a week, and one month of paid vacation after two years.
Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman currently exclude domestic workers from their labour laws.
The Oman Labour Law 2003 (Royal Decree No.35) provides the central framework for labour relations and makes provision with respect to, among other things, wages, working time, leave, industrial safety and dispute resolution.
Pursuant to Art 2(3) of the Omani Labour Law, however, “domestic servants working inside houses or outside houses such as a driver, maid and a cook and those with similar jobs” are excluded from its provisions, which eventually denies domestic workers all protections guaranteed to other workers under the Omani Labour Law.
However, Oman has relevant obligations under the ICERD, CEDAW and ILO Convention No.29.
“As is apparent from the above, there are few legal protections for migrant domestic workers in Oman and sweeping reform is required in order to bring Omani law into line with the Convention,” International Trade Union Center says in its 2014 report.
“Omani law as it currently stands fails to respect, promote and realise the fundamental principles and rights at work for migrant domestic workers. In fact, on the contrary, Omani law actively prohibits certain categories of workers, including domestic workers, from forming or joining unions,” the report adds.
Some two years ago, after the Indian government tightened the rules of recruiting housemaids to Oman, the flow of Indian housemaids have come down drastically. Similarly, the Philippine government has also strict rules in place to send their citizens as housemaids to GCC countries.
Hiring of Indonesian domestic workers in Oman was suspended from March 1, according to a senior official of Indonesian embassy in Muscat, and they had temporarily stopped endorsing job requests. Recruitment of Nepalese housemaids in Oman has also been put on hold.
This has resulted in Omanis turning to African countries to recruit housemaids, especially from Tanzania and Ethiopia.
Recently, news portal allafrica.com reported that the Tanzanian government has suspended over 70 agents dealing with the recruitment of domestic workers following claims that they have been recruiting housemaids to Oman where they have been subjected to gross violation of human rights.
Quoting, the Secretary of the Anti-trafficking Secretariat, Seperatus Fella, the news portal reported that a lot of complaints have emerged on the exploitation of mostly young girls who have been sent to work in Oman.
"Most of these girls and boys are subjected to commercial sex or work as domestic servants and barmaids, with some sent on forced labour in factories, farms and mines under very poor conditions and fear of being physically harmed by their employers," the report quoted Fella as saying.