Like many of the Gulf States, Oman is a key employer of expatriate workers from across the globe. Every year it welcomes vast numbers of workers from overseas, and maintains an expat work force totalling 1.7 million. While these workers form an important part of the Omani economy, concerns have been raised over the years about foreign workers outcompeting native employees when it comes to securing jobs.
This concern has slowly led to a number of government policies over the last few years, all designed to limit the number of expat workers in the country and, where possible, to replace outgoing foreign workers with Omani nationals. Illegal workers in the country have understandably received short shrift, though now even legitimate workers could be heading for leaner times.
One such policy has recently come under fire from the head of the Women’s Guild of Oman (WGO) who believes that some of these policies may be having a negative impact on the country’s female workforce. Susan Flower, of the WGO, believes that a change in policy may benefit both expats and native Omani’s equally and is pushing for employment reform that would create what she sees as a fairer and more balanced working environment.
The biggest concern raised by Mrs Flower is how female expats are frequently banned from taking up specific roles. She specifically cites human resources and administration roles as common examples. In such cases, these roles are reserved solely for Omani workers. However while the goal is a perfectly reasonable one, and is helping female Omani’s to enter the workforce, Mrs Flower believes there is more to be gained from a level playing field.
On the one hand are the wives of expats who have entered the country to work. These women, being severely limited in gainful employment thanks to the labour laws in place, sometimes struggle to adjust to their lifestyle in Oman. It can make integration more difficult, and a lack of employment for expat spouses can lead to dissatisfaction and restlessness, especially if they have been “career women” back home.
This can have knock-on effects of course. When the wife of an expat worker is dissatisfied it increases the odds of that whole family leaving – and this can create a shortage of qualified workers.
The WGO also points out that while the government’s aims are pure, this policy could also be affecting young Omani women who are entitled to apply for such positions. They claim that the lack of strong, experienced, expat workers in certain fields may be having a negative impact by removing potentially strong role models from the workplace.
It has been claimed that allowing Omani and expat women to work together will help to educate and encourage young Omani women, and help them to achieve their full potential.