Oman has already begun to implement a ban of up to three months on foreign workers taking certain jobs to provide more employment for its nationals, a labour ministry spokesman said yesterday. The ban was just announced on Sunday. Like a number of other countries in the region, Oman relies heavily on expatriate workers, a pressing issue for governments in the Gulf that want to see more of their own people participate directly in the labour-force.
The ministry of manpower has already stopped issuing permits and visas for foreign workers working for private sector companies in businesses in a range of sectors, including import and export, laundry, tailoring, electronic repair, textiles, health clubs and workshops dealing with aluminium, iron and wood. "This ban will only be imposed for two to three months to see if there is enough demand from Omanis to employed in these sectors," said the ministry spokesman. "If there is enough demand then we will continue the ban."
The ban affects only incoming workers, not those already employed who will be allowed to renew their visas. "We are just trying to limit the number of foreign workers coming in and giving a chance for Omanis to take these jobs," said the spokesman. The ban does not apply to banks or oil companies. The new law comes as part of the country's Omanisation campaign, which aims at ensuring jobs for every Omani citizen while reducing dependence on expatriates. The campaign was first launched in the Sultanate in 1988 and by the end of 1999 the number of Omanis in government services exceeded the set target of 72 per cent, and in most departments it had reached 86 per cent.
The ministry's statistics indicate that the number of Omani people employed in the private sector has been on the rise since the early 1990s, from 14.7 per cent in 1995 to 16.6 per cent in 2000. About 25 per cent of Oman's total population of 2.8 million people are foreign workers, the ministry said. The sultanate's ministry of economy allocated 275 million Omani rials (Dh2.6bn) in this years' budget to the private sector to train nationals. However, there is some scepticism as to how effective the grant will be.
"I don't think the Omani people are ready or have enough training to take over all these jobs the ministry has banned foreign workers from performing," said Abdulnabi Ahmed al Buloshi, head of the business club at the Chamber of Commerce in Sohar. Without workers, Mr Buloshi believes that the private sector is at risk of losing profits. "We still don't have the right people to take over these jobs and as a result business will suffer, so I hope this ban ends soon," he said.
The National Human Resource Development & Employment Authority of the UAE, or Tanmia, is also working to promote national employment by training nationals as part of the country's Emiritisation program. "We are not a recruitment agency; we are just here to prepare citizens to take up jobs in the market by training them," said Feddah Lootah, the acting director general of Tanmia. According to a report issued last year by the Ministry of Labour, expatriate labour accounts for more than 90 per cent of the UAE's private-sector labour force. Ministry records show that 3.1 million foreign workers were employed by approximately 260,000 organisations.
The imposition of targets to boost Emirati employment has yielded mixed results, according to the Executive Council's 2007-2008 policy agenda. Since 1999, Emirati participation in the banking sector rose 300 per cent, from 1,200 employees to 4,700 - more than 26 per cent of the overall workforce in 2005. However, a similar strategy in the insurance sector saw Emirati participation rise by just 5.3%.
Ms Lootah said an Oman-style ban would be unfair to companies in the UAE. "I don't think we are ready to impose any kind of ban on foreign workers because the private sector is all about making profit and we can't force them to employ the current calibre of nationals in the market," said Ms Lootah. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org