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Times of Oman - 27.01.2015

Muscat: Employers in Oman have been told not to charge their employees for the issuance of a no objection certificate (NOC), which allows the individual to join a new company. 

The Ministry of Manpower and the Royal Oman Police (ROP) had earlier clarified that according to Article 11 in the Passport and Residence Act, expatriate workers in Oman who leave their jobs, will not be able to return to the country on work visa for two years unless they secure an NOC from their previous sponsors.

However, according to the law, an NOC is not required if the expatriate wants to rejoin his or her previous employer. 

There have been reports that some employers ask their employees to pay a certain amount of money in return for an NOC.  

A senior official at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) said that charging employees for an NOC does not seem to be a common practice in the private sector but advised the companies to follow the rules and regulations that are in place. 

There may have been some individual cases but it cannot be generalised, Redha Juma Mohammed Ali Al Saleh, vice-chairman for administration and finance affairs at the OCCI, told Times of Oman. 

"It is not a right practice, and I do not think the private sector is doing this," he said, adding that the OCCI has not received any complaint from workers on this issue so far.

The companies are expected to obey the rules as these regulations have been introduced to benefit the companies themselves, said the official.  

The authorities had earlier stated that the NOC regulations are being enforced to protect the rights of employers and organise the labour market. 

Blackmail  
In addition, Ahmed Al Hooti, an OCCI member, said that they are always against blackmail as it is against the human rights. 

"However, the worker should abide by the contract signed between him and the employer," said Al Hooti. 

He added that the worker can file a case against the employer in case the company or the employer violates the terms of the contract.   

According to Al Hooti, the government decided to activate the two-year ban to combat hidden trade. 

"Most of the unskilled expatriates join companies to get an experience for two years and then they come to Oman again and establish their hidden companies and compete with citizens."

He added that the government wants to regulate the private sector and cut down the number of expats to achieve the set target. 

"It is always the nationals' mistakes," Al Hooti said, adding that many company owners welcome the hidden trade offered by expatriates to run their companies in exchange for receiving a small amount of money every month. 

"The nationals always search for loopholes in the laws to escape from the company's responsibilities, looking for direct income," said the official. 

He also noted that the government must look for solutions to improve the current situation in the private sector. 

The administrator for the What's Happening Muscat Group on Facebook, which has more than 10,000 members, told Times of Oman, "The matter has been raised on more than one occasion in the forum with some asking if it is legal after saying they were asked for payment.

"The topic causes much discussion with many saying it is wrong to do so; others argue the employer should be able to recoup some costs while some say it is a price worth paying to be able to switch jobs."

When contacted by Times of Oman, an official at the ROP said that they are aware that such a practice exists but noted that it is an issue that needs to be settled between the employee and the employer. 

It cannot be said that it is illegal as the employer may feel the need to recoup the expenses that the company had incurred to hire that worker, he said. 

A source at the Ministry of Manpower said that they have not received any complaints about this practice.  

Tonia Gray, general manager at Competence HR, a human resources consultancy, believes that it is completely unreasonable for the employer to withhold an NOC, if the employee has completed two years service.

Mrs Gray said that she understands the difficulties that may be faced by companies who are losing good employees but noted that it is clearly unethical that a number of people are being told that if they want an NOC, they have to pay for it.   

There may still be a misunderstanding by some companies that they will lose the labour clearance if they issue an NOC, but this is not the case as long as the individual exits before re-entering Oman to the new company on the new company's own labour clearance.

"I have seen several cases in the past few weeks, particularly on social media, where people with over two years service have been told "if you want to leave, then you have to pay me for an NOC". 

"In some cases if the employer has treated the employee fairly then the employee would be happy to renew their contract but in some cases a better offer is made – or worse the treatment received by the employee has not been fair and reasonable – hence their request to leave."   

Omanisation
Restrictive measures regarding the employment of foreign workers are in line with the government's efforts to reduce the number of expatriates working in the private sector from the current level of 39 per cent to 33 per cent with the aim of creating more job opportunities for locals. 

According to the latest official statistics, the total number of expatriate workers in Oman stands at 1,565,523, including 1,267,418 foreign nationals working in the private sector. 

The number of insured Omanis working in the private sector is 194,911. 
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