Sunday, January 22, 2012



When I watch cartoon movies, like AN AMERICAN TAIL, or more serious films, such as GANGS OF NEW YORK, one finds the same tale of exploited immigrants–old and young.

A recent article in the Oman Newspaper, THE WEEK, shares several similar tales of labor in Oman today working under dangerous conditions and trying to make it in a new place and time. The issues, needs, and reality of global labor need to be taken to heart in Oman, in the USA, and elsewhere across the globe.

In the meantime, read this insightful piece (article below entitled HIGH STAKES) on the Middle East and emigres.–KAS

High Stakes
by Rajarshi Aditya Chaudhuri

Mohammed is one of the many workers who can be seen working on the many buildings coming up in the capital without the necessary safety gear on. “I was given a hard hat by my employer, but no one on the site really wears those as it gets quite hot during the day,” said Mohammed. There were also no harnesses to ensure that when Mohammed lost balance, he would not free fall to the ground two floors below. “We don’t really have any harnesses on the site; I don’t think I have ever really used one before,” he said.

As a young boy growing up in rural Bangladesh, Tazim Ershad knew from a very young age that he wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps and become an electrician. “I used to follow him around and that is how I learnt my trade.” However, as soon as he reached Oman, he found that his brother’s training was not going to help him much in this country. He recently suffered severe second-degree burns to his arms and lower body which resulted in him being out of work for two weeks.

Tazim’s situation is even more dire because, unlike Mohammed, he did not even get any help with his medical bills from his employer despite this being required by part three, article 33 of the Omani Labour Law.

This law requires an employer to cover such medical expenses of employees, especially if the accident takes place on the job. However, due to Tazim’s pseudo-legal work status, he could not avail this provision of the law. “I am associated with a couple of different sub-contracting firms who utilise my services whenever they get a new job. Since I don’t work for any one particular employer, none of them is willing to pay for my medical expenses.”

The lack of proper training and safety measures at work sites is something that has become a common sighting. Smaller sub-contracting firms hire expatriate workers like Tazim and Mohammed coming in to Oman without basic training in safety measures. Given the fact that these workers often work in hazardous conditions with heavy machinery, it is only a matter of time before one makes a mistake that could put them and their co-workers at serious risk. And if an accident were to happen, workers like Tazim and Mohammed often don’t know what kind of services their rights as employees entitle them to.

NL Yadav is the manager at Al Rahhal Manpower, one of the many places around Ruwi that supply manpower for short-term and long-term projects. “Whenever a sub-contracting company needs a number of workers to help construct a building or fix roads, we find them the people for the job.” Depending on Yadav’s agreement with the sub-contracting company, these labourers may be his employees or directly employed by the sub-contractor.

“If they are employed directly by the sub-contractor they are no longer our responsibility. But if they are our employees, we provide them with a food allowance. They are provided with accommodation at a camp or a villa with their co-workers and they are given an annual medical allowance of RO70.” Hassan Abbas Noorani of Noorani Manpower Rec-ruiting Services said, “We make sure that as long as the workers are working with us, we take care of their needs.”

However in Mohammed’s case, the only accommodation he was provided was a corner in the very building he was helping construct and he had to pay for most of his medical expenses. “I had to pay RO180 and since I did not have that much money at the time, I had to borrow it from my friends,” Mohammed said. Tazim was in the hospital for 16 days and his entire medical fee, which amounted to RO120, came out of his own pocket.

Salim al Badi, the director general of Labour Care at the Ministry of Manpower said that measures are in place to help tackle such issues. “Royal Decree number 35 authorises the Health and Safety department at the Ministry to periodically visit these sites to make sure these rules are being followed. Everyone working in hazardous conditions must be issued personal protection and other safety equipment to ensure their safety at the work site,” al Badi said.

There is also a penalty system in place and employers who do not implement changes even after repeated warnings face serious punitive action, he added. “Employees can also anonymously complain by calling 80077000 and we will follow up on the complaint and take necessary measures. And employees should always know that the labour law here in the sultanate is the same for Omanis and expatriate workers.”

Whereas cases like Mohammed and Tazim’s are very common in Oman, there is also the other end of the spectrum. Mathew Roy has been working as health, safety and environment manager of Oman International Group at Petroleum Development Oman for the past 15 years. “And I can proudly say that we have not had a single accident in those past 15 years.” And his form-ula for this impeccable safety record is very simple. “We know that as a company, our employees are our asset and so we make sure they stay safe at all times.”

Companies like Galfar keep track of every safety incident that occurs at their various work sites and serious ones are reviewed by the company’s chief executive office and other department heads, said TG Philip, vice-president of quality, health, safety and environment. “We measure our performance as a company in terms of Lost Time Injury Frequency.” Lost Time Injury (LTI) refers to an injury sustained by an employee that keeps them away from work for more than 24 hours, Philip explained.

But situations like the one at Mohammed’s building site, where workers don’t wear the necessary safety equipment, continue. And even as Mohammed and Tazim recuperate from their injuries,
they don’t have much of an option but to go back to work to their unsafe work environments. “I don’t really have any equipment of my own to protect myself from future accidents,’ said Tazim. “And everyday that I don’t work, my family does not get money.”

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