AS GULF economies face a slowdown due to the oil crisis triggered by the coronavirus outbreak, Oman has called for all expatriates employed in the country’s “government sectors” to be replaced by nationals.
With government jobs already reserved for nationals under a “decades-old” policy of “Omanisation”, the latest move is expected to affect expatriates employed in state-run companies.
In New Delhi, the fear is that Oman’s move could “become the new normal” for many of the embattled economies in the region. There are more than 7 lakh Indians in Oman, of which about 6 lakh are blue collar workers and professionals, according to the Indian Embassy in Muscat.
Besides Indians, Bangladesh and Pakistan nationals form a major chunk of the expatriate community, which totals about one-third of Oman’s population of over 46 lakh.
According to a monthly statistical bulletin for April issued by Oman’s National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), and published by Times of Oman, 53,332 expatriates worked in the government sector as of March-end, with the total number of foreign workers at 13,21,753.
Officially, the Indian government has downplayed the latest directive. Stressing that “Omanisation” is a “decades-old policy”, the Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said: “The policy is not India-specific, and not targeted towards India.”
Two weeks ago, the state barred private companies from sacking Omanis under job cuts targeted to lessen the economic burden caused by the coronavirus crisis. It also urged private firms to ask non-Omani employees “to leave permanently”.
The new circular issued by Oman’s Ministry of Finance Wednesday called for expatriates employed in the country’s government sectors to be replaced by Omanis, so that they can contribute to the development of the Sultanate, according to a report in the Times of Oman published Thursday.
“The order for Omanisation of government sectors will have its implementation costs included in the 2021 budget estimates, which need to be submitted by July 2020. The circular has also said that the replacement of expats with Omanis will need to be done in a speedy and organised manner,” the report said.
It quoted Oman’s Finance ministry as saying that the state’s Financial and Administrative Audit Institution indicated the presence of a number of expatriates who occupy leadership and supervisory jobs in government firms.
It quoted the ministry as saying that government companies are considered an “attractive environment that can accommodate qualified Omani job seekers” and that the companies have “good potential to execute government’s Omanisation policy”.
On April 7, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called up Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq to discuss “health and economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the steps being taken” by their countries to respond to them.
“Sultan assured PM about the safety and wellbeing of the Indian community in Oman in the present situation,” the MEA had said.
Omar’s former ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who died in January, had been a benefactor of the Indian community for decades. India had sent Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi to Muscat to convey its condolences.
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