Oman boasts over 1.7 million expats living and working within its borders. And while many of these expats provide essential services, there has long been debate about the effects of this expatriate workforce on the native population.
A number of high-ranking officials in the Omani government have claimed over the years that this expat population is robbing local workers of job vacancies. Just as bad, these expat workers are then filtering their salaries back out of the country in the form of expat remittances, meaning that the economy loses twice.
The disagreements over expat workers have, till now, largely focused around workers lower down the food chain. Often referred to as “unskilled” workers, many arrive in Oman on construction contracts, helping to build the essential infrastructure that a rapidly growing nation needs.
However recently a change in attitude has been rearing its head, and now the Majlis Al Shura have unanimously recommended that the government bans expat workers from the top positions in Omani companies.
The argument being made is that a number of companies have been run by foreign-born CEOs for decades, yet during that time a tiny handful of Omani businessmen have found themselves helicoptered in to senior company positions. Instead, if the arguments are to be believed, these expat CEOs show preference for other non-national workers. As a result, Omani talent is specifically selected against in favour of yet more expat workers.
There is, of course, another side to this story. Others in the know point to the fact that many of these expat workers have decades of experience in large corporations, and claim that very few Omani workers are able to match these experience levels. It has been suggested by supporters of these expat CEOs that they are simply filling roles with the most experienced and suitable people, irrespective of the country of origin.
Experts in the HR field have also raised concerns. It has been claimed that removing non-Omani workers from senior positions risks a significant drop in foreign investment. Furthermore, others have cautioned against replacing established expat CEOs with local candidates “just because” and point out that a measured and gradual reduction would be preferable to the “big hit” being proposed by some factions.
It is important to state that all this is very much debate at present. These are merely suggestions that have been made, irrespective of how publicly. Whether the Omani government will take decisive action on these recommendations remains to be seen.
If approved, Oman’s board rooms could become very different indeed. Only time will tell whether these ideas are treated with seriousness, and quite where the potentially dis-banded directors could find themselves heading next.