x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

Thousands of foreign workers in Oman not paid for months

With fewer contracts being awarded, private companies are unable to pay their workers, most of them from the Indian subcontinent

The economic downturn has meant 2,000 foreign construction workers in Oman have not been paid for up to four months. Thomas Imo / Photothek via Getty Images
The economic downturn has meant 2,000 foreign construction workers in Oman have not been paid for up to four months. Thomas Imo / Photothek via Getty Images

About 2,000 migrant workers in Oman, mostly employed in the construction industry, have not been paid for up to four months as low oil prices force the government to shelve some major projects this year.

With fewer contracts being awarded, private companies are unable to pay their workers, most of them from the Indian subcontinent, in the current economic slowdown.

Indian national Ganesh Amitraj, an electrician who has worked for the same construction company for the past six years, said he had not been paid since May.

“I was told my wages are delayed but I will be paid later but not told when. There are 16 like me in this company who are in the same situation,” Mr Amitraj told The National.

Mujib Raman, a construction worker, and 22 of his colleagues have complained to the Indian embassy in Muscat after not being paid for four months.

The company they work for had a contract with Muscat International Airport that expired in February and was not renewed.

“The end of July was the fourth month we have not been paid. We have already informed the Indian embassy and they promise us they will do something about it,” Mr Raman said.

Mr Raman said most of the unpaid workers lived in company accommodation and did not have pay rent or utility bills, but needed help to pay for food.

"Members of the Indian cultural club and close friends help with our grocery bills. They understand the situation we are in,” Mr Amitraj said.

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An official at the Indian embassy acknowledged that nearly a thousand Indians have had their wages delayed.

“Yes, we received complaints from hundreds of workers who did not get paid in the last few months. We are in contact with the officials of the companies concerned to put it right,” the embassy spokesman told The National.

Oman announced a budget deficit of 3.3 billion rials (Dh 2.98bn) for this fiscal year after oil prices plummeted by more than 50 per cent from $115 per barrel in June 2014 to the current price of about $50 per barrel.

Economists say the sultanate has cut down on building projects awarded to private companies this year by more than 40 per cent, with only 1.3bn rials worth of contracts compared to 3.2bn rials last year.

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“Most of the major companies in the country rely on government projects to survive. They have overheads and many of them employ hundreds of workers in the construction sector to build roads, bridges, ports and other infrastructure. They can either restructure their businesses by taking loans to keep up with the overheads or send workers back home,” Saleh Al Habsi, an independent economist, said.

He added that at least 2,000 foreign workers are waiting for their unpaid wages. Private companies involved in the unpaid salaries dispute contacted by The National refused to comment.

Oman's ministry of manpower said it was aware of the situation.

"We are discussing the issue with these companies to start making the payments," a ministry official said. "We are confident it will be resolved in the next few weeks."