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Protectionism is not helping Omanisation efforts

by James Morgan on Apr 10, 2016

The GCC region’s large expatriate population offers many benefits, especially within the realm of construction. Aside from the cultural diversity that makes the Gulf such an interesting area in which to live, it enables national governments to pursue some of the most ambitious projects on the planet.

Of course, there are also down sides to this demographic makeup. For example, an overreliance on expat labour can have an adverse impact on the local job market. When too many jobs are performed by overseas workers, it can be difficult for GCC nationals to secure employment, and governments are left to pick up the bill. With this in mind, the merits of localisation policies – designed to bring GCC nationals into the workforce by setting minimum quotas for employers – are clear to see.

In Oman, such efforts are particularly important. The Sultanate’s expat community is small compared to much of the wider GCC. Omani nationals account for around 65% of the country’s population. It is therefore vital to ensure that citizens have jobs, as a high proportion of Omani nationals out of work would mean an eye-watering welfare bill for the government.

Indeed, the Sultanate’s localisation policy, known as Omanisation, was a topic of great interest at Construction Week’s Leaders in Construction Oman Roundtable (page 20). It’s fair to say that all panellists were dissatisfied with the situation as it stands.

The theory behind Omanisation was universally applauded by roundtable participants. The construction outfits represented at the discussion are working not only to ensure they are meeting their quotas, but also to create meaningful training and career development opportunities for their employees.

Panellists’ concerns were not related to Omanisation per se, but to the protectionism that is taking place once Omanis have been hired. It appears that construction firms are being prevented from terminating the contracts of nationals who fail to deliver. It is prohibitively difficult to part company with an Omani employee, even when the circumstances warrant such action. Moreover, it is apparently not uncommon for authorities in the Sultanate to intervene directly in such matters.

This type of protectionism is understandable, if not desirable. However, creating an unlevel playing field in the workplace is of no benefit to the country or its citizens. Meeting Omanisation targets is difficult enough without taking the proverbial two steps back.

The prioritisation of Omani nationals within the field of recruitment is necessary for the Sultanate’s long-term economic sustainability. But protectionism after the fact is doubly damaging: it prevents employers from running their businesses effectively, and it robs employees of genuine professional development.

Oman’s construction community is only asking for fairness. Post-employment protectionism is detrimental to employers and employees alike, and it needs to stop.