One would think this was a real shake-up in the balance of employment and a major push in the policy of Omanisation.
Read further. More specifically, the Times of Oman article, since the Reuters report doesn't say a great deal.
The ban applies to applications for new visas. Those who already have a visa will be able to retain it. Companies who already meet the requirements for Omanisation targets, training etc will be able to continue to apply for visas for expatriate workers.
I don't foresee a mass exodus of laundrymen, barbers and tailors. But it OUGHT to mean a staged handover from expatriates from the sub-continent to what is euphemistically hoped will be a commercial sector dominated by Omani workers.
The announcement moves against Omanis who hope to earn a fee from sponsoring a trader in these very small business opportunities. It could also promote a policy of negotiation between sponsors and their expatriate fee-payers inasmuch as a sponsor would now have to think twice about hiring and firing at will.
However, it would be instructive to know the rate of take-up of training in courses dedicated to these vocations. In June,Dr Juma bin Ali bin Juma, minister of manpower signed agreements with companies to provide training in 'accounting, sales and marketing, tourism, heavy equipment operations, different technical specialities and welding,'hardly the type of occupations that are now being squeezed out.
'“There is also a problem of skilled Omanis as locals have to be trained before they are employed in any sector. Our ministry is seeking people who can be employed in some of the sectors like the construction sector but we don’t have enough skilled Omanis,” said Dr Younis bin Khalfan Al Akhzami, director-general of planning and development, Ministry of Manpower on the sidelines of a seminar on the National Manpower Register in early May.Dr Al Akhzami tentatively admitted that full implementation of the National Manpower Register, which aims to track employment of nationals in both the public and private sectors, requires more cooperation from other ministries. "We need more cooperation from all the ministries to complete the database. We also need to include some of the private sector activities that include agriculture, fisheries which employ a lot of Omanis."
I spoke to my friend in Muscat who has been working for training companies for over ten years now. She tells me that there is currently an extremely high turnover rate in employment of Omanis in the private sector, which is not altogether surprising given that most of the Omanis are young and job switching is entirely characteristic of young people at the start of their careers, anywhere.
And as several in the Omani blogosphere have commented, it is unlikely that Omanis would be tempted to take on jobs now undertaken by low-paid Asian workers in extremes of heat in very poor working conditions.
A culture change is required in the way that employment of this nature is viewed. For example, consider that a qualified plumber in the UK can charge almost anything he likes, because qualified plumbing engineers are as scarce as gold dust.
The Indian Times announced in June that the Government of India had fixed the minimum wage for maids going from India to work in Oman at RO75 a month. I'm not quite sure how the Government of India was hoping to implement the measure unless it had the full backing of the Omani authorities with regulation to boot. It's a move in the right direction. I used to pay my maid RO110 a month ten years ago, earning not a little consternation from my Omani lady colleagues who thought I was spoiling her. I looked at it another way. This lady was doing all the stuff that I would otherwise have to do to keep the home and the family going, thereby giving me the freedom to work and to undertake the activities that I wanted to do.
The downside for maids is that they are now no longer being offered jobs in the Middle East. A report from Bangladesh reveals that demand for maids from Bangladesh is rising because India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines have recently raised wages required for female workers, the irony being that the Bangladeshi government has slowed down procedures by requiring attestation of documents.
London's Financial Times caught up with the recent row about Oman's status in the US report on human trafficking. Strangely, of all the measures that the Ministry of Manpower has been taking to codify employment legislation, the article chose to comment on the recent closure of a brothel in Muscat as a step taken to combat trafficking for prostitution.
What's so new about brothels? I detect an attack of Anglo-Saxon attitudes.
We had a brothel just around the corner from where I lived in Al Ghubrah. It was a hovel perched on the corner of a small date garden wherein lived a friendly enough Omani and his family. And it was a male brothel. I was struck by the demeanour of the tall Indian man who used to stand outside in his sarong on hot evenings. His eyes held an intelligent compassion and spoke of deep sorrow.
The overwhelming reason for people proactively participating in the sex trade is financial. For all I know, the Indian gentleman could have been one of the thousands of Indians caught up in the conundrum of no job, no permit, no money. Oman routinely repatriates Indians who have fallen on hard times. One such drive was announced in June. It should be a matter of extreme regret that people are brought into extremis as the result of failure of responsibility on the part of their Omani sponsors. Perhaps last week's pronouncement on visas might reduce the number of these tragic cases.
A JCB was brought in to demolish the hovel, after a similar female establishment was found in the area. I don't know what happened to the Indian and his colleagues. For that matter, I don't know what happened to the Omani head of household who had permitted the practice on his land. Maybe he had a very pragmatic outlook. After all, he didn't look particularly affluent either.
Brothels? We've even had them in sleepy Shepshed in middle England. Two were closed down as a result of community pressure only last year.
Added on 6th August 2008: Catching up on links following from ToO being absent online for a spell in June/July, I came across this quote from Oman's Minister of Commerce and Industry, speaking at the 11th German-Arab Business Forum in Berlin in June. Amongst the problems facing the petrochemical industry in Oman, Maqbool bin Ali bin Sultan admitted:
“It is an irony that in Oman, there are many unemployed people, but no one with the specific talent and skill required for the petrochemical industry. So there is an urgent need to train and educate the Omani youths and get them interested in science and technology.”
He said that 410,000 expatriates were currently working in the private sector of whom 25% were in construction, and 10% in domestic service.
"In 2004, the private sector accommodated a total of 36,928 Omanis while more than 8,000 citizens benefited from self-employment opportunities offered by the Sanad programme," said Macki.