Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014, 11:39 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Oman

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Oman, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5328.html [accessed 24 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

The Sultanate of Oman is a monarchy without popularly elected representative institutions or political parties. Oman has been ruled by a sultan of the Al Bu Sa'id family since the middle of the 18th century. While maintaining the ruling family's long tradition of firm control over all important matters affecting the State, Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa'id Al Sa'id has brought leaders from the tribal system into his Government, and much decisionmaking is consensual in accordance with longstanding tradition. Since his accession in 1970, he has balanced tribal, regional, and ethnic interests in composing the national administration. The Cabinet of Ministers is appointed by and responsible to the Sultan. The State Consultative Council, an advisory body formed in 1980, was replaced in 1991 by the Majlis Ash-Shura or Consultative Council. This body represents the Sultan's measured effort to broaden participation in government. The Consultative Council's mandate is to review new laws pertaining to economic development and social services prior to their promulgation. It may summon Ministers to appear before the Majlis to discuss the Ministries' policies and plans.

Oman is strategically located at the entrance to the Persian Gulf opposite Iran. Oman is concerned with internal stability and security, given the tensions in the region, the proximity of Iran and Iraq, and the potential threat of political Islam. The security apparatus is pervasive but professional and well trained; it is under the direct responsibility of the Ministry of Palace Office Affairs. The police are under the full control of the highest levels of government. Reports of human rights abuses by security personnel are rare.

Almost totally undeveloped when Sultan Qaboos came to power in 1970, Oman has used its modest oil revenues to make impressive economic progress and improve public access to health care, education, and social services. Almost 80 percent of the Government's revenue comes from its oil production, but it is seeking to diversify Oman's free market economy and stimulate private sector activity. Individuals are free to associate with others in pursuing commercial interests, but only Omani citizens may own real property. In 1993 the Government lifted restrictions on foreign ownership of Omani stocks and bonds.

There was no essential change in the human rights situation in 1993. A number of basic rights continued to be restricted or denied, particularly the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, the right of citizens to change their government, and worker rights. Additionally, various forms of discrimination against women remain, although women have made tangible progress in some areas of public life. Civil and political rights are not formally codified, but in the absence of any challenge to stability and order, the authorities generally respect the integrity of the person. Freedom of religion is generally respected.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killing.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were no reports of torture in 1993. There were a few unconfirmed reports that some prisoners had been beaten during pretrial detention. In particular, there were a few instances of police beating suspects accused of crimes against women and children. One defendant on trial in the Magistrate Court alleged he had been abused but retracted his accusation in court.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There were no reports of arbitrary arrest in 1993. The police do not require a judicial warrant to make an arrest but must obtain judicial concurrence to hold a suspect. In practice, the police generally obtain warrants prior to making an arrest unless there is some urgency to apprehending a suspect. Under current procedures, the police have 24 hours after an arrest to file charges or submit papers to a magistrate showing the grounds for holding the arrestee. When the police provide the courts with documentary justification for an arrest, the magistrate may exercise his option to order bail or release the detainee into the custody of another or on his own recognizance. Alternatively, the judge may order that the suspect be held up to 14 days. If the police require more time to gather evidence, the judge may grant extensions of the detention period. The police sometimes detain suspects for questioning or for protective custody. Such detentions are usually for less than 24 hours. However, there are indications that illegal detentions have occurred when the police did not seek judicial concurrence for detention for longer periods.

The police do not routinely notify a detainee's family or sponsor (in the case of foreign nationals) of his or her detention; they will often allow a detainee to make a telephone call. In the capital area, the authorities post outside the criminal court building a list of names of persons being held pending trial. While there were no reports of incommunicado detention in 1993, the police did not always permit attorneys and visitors to see detainees. Judges occasionally intercede to ensure access to detainees. A detainee or persons interested in the detainee's case may hire an attorney, but there is no explicit right to an attorney, and the Government will not pay for legal representation for an indigent person.

Although Omani law does not require a prompt judicial determination of the legality of a detention, the period of detention prior to trial is usually short.

The Civil Court publishes a semimonthly schedule assigning a "judge in charge" each day during off-duty hours and weekends. These magistrates are available to review charges or grounds for holding a detainee. The occasional failure of the police to promptly seek judicial approval for detentions has caused tension between the civil judges and the police. There are no known political detainees in Oman.

After his accession in 1970, Sultan Qaboos granted amnesty to all Omanis who were in exile. Oman does not practice exile as a form of punishment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

In addition to civilian courts, which treat misdemeanor and felony criminal cases, the court system includes Shari'a courts, which handle family law, an authority for the settlement of commercial disputes under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and a board to hear labor disputes under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. The Magistrate Court is a criminal court and adjudicates violations of the Criminal Code. A rarely used security court system handles internal security cases. Provincial governors arbitrate minor matters in rural areas but do not have the authority to detain persons.

The various judicial systems are subordinate to the Sultan. In most cases they operate independently, but the Sultan may intercede in cases of particular interest, especially those concerning national security.

Judicial practice in Oman conforms in most part to Islamic prescriptions for a fair trial before experienced and impartial judges. Oman's criminal judges, all Omani, are professionals who have trained at legal institutions in various Arab countries after completing their bachelor's degrees. A college graduate may become a judge in the civilian courts at age 28 after 3 years of postgraduate study and 1 to 2 years' apprenticeship as a judge trainee. In the Islamic, or Shari'a, court system, a high school graduate may join the ranks of Shari'a court judges at age 23 after completing a 5-year course at one of Oman's four higher institutes for Islamic studies and an apprenticeship. There were no reports in 1993 that judges were transferred or dismissed for political reasons.

Oman's Criminal Code, enacted in 1974, does not explicitly state the rights of the accused during the criminal process but instead relies heavily on tradition and procedures instituted by the Magistrate Court. There are no written rules for admission of evidence during trials or codified procedures for entering cases into the criminal system.

In a criminal trial, the accused is presumed to be innocent. He may be represented by an attorney, but this is not a legal requirement, and the Government will not pay for counsel. Defendants have the right and are expected to be present at trial; they may present evidence; and they may confront witnesses by asking questions put through the judge, who generally is the only one who may question witnesses. The police have the responsibility to prosecute cases before the Magistrate Court. Trial is before a single judge for misdemeanors and minor felonies and before a panel of three judges for serious felonies. There are no jury trials, and, while there is no explicit right to a public trial, court proceedings are generally open to the public. The accused person, or his lawyer, may read the police "charge sheet," which summarizes the case against him. There is no procedure by which the defense may seek the deletion of elements of the charge sheet prior to trial, but the magistrate may delete charges during the trial. The police or Public Prosecutor (a senior police officer) may add charges after inspection of the file by the defense and during the trial.

During the trial, witnesses may be called by the judge, prosecution, or defense. The prosecution or the defense may cross-examine witnesses through (and with the approval of) the judge, but there is no procedural right to cross-examination. The prosecution and defense may challenge the reliability of statements or authenticity of documents in their closing statements to the judge. Judges frequently pronounce a verdict and sentence within 1 day after a trial's end. Jail sentences of over 3 months and fines of over $1,300 are subject to appeal before a three-judge panel. However, judgments in serious felony cases may not be appealed because they are heard in the first instance before the highest judicial panel; there is no other court of appeal.

The Public Prosecutor's office may also appeal a sentence that it believes to be too light, although it may not appeal an innocent verdict. The President of the Magistrate Court chairs the Court of Appeals, which may opt not to consider an appeal it finds ill-grounded. The Shari'a Court generally allows attorneys representing both parties to appear before the judge. Judgments may be appealed within 30 days to an appeal court within the Shari'a court system, and the appeals are heard by a senior judge.

Commercial matters brought before the authority for the settlement of commercial disputes are heard before a panel consisting of two judges and a member of the Chamber of Commerce. Once a case is filed, the authority may summon the parties to appear and often seeks opinions from auditors and other experts. Cases involving fines of over $26,000 (10,000 Omani rials) may be appealed to a five-member panel and receive a fresh hearing.

There was no evidence that the legal system discriminated against minorities. However, in the case of discrimination against women, the Shari'a courts adhere to Islamic law equating the testimony of one man with that of two women.

A capital sentence requires the Sultan's ratification. There were no reports of political prisoners in 1993.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The police are not required to have a warrant in order to search a private residence, office, or vehicle. There is a widespread belief that the Government eavesdrops on both oral and written communications, and Omanis are guarded in both areas.

A 1986 law banned marriage between Omanis and foreigners (defined as not including citizens from the Gulf Cooperation Council states). However, many prominent Omanis are married to foreigners, and some were married after 1986. Recently, a new marriage law was promulgated which set forth the conditions allowing marriages between Omanis and foreigners. Omanis may now obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior if they can justify their desire to marry a foreigner and can show the financial ability to support the foreign spouse.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

There is no legal protection of free speech or of a free press. Criticism of the Sultan in any form or medium is prohibited by law. Criticism of individual officials, agencies, and their programs is tolerated but rarely receives media coverage. Sessions of the Majlis Ash-Shura, including those featuring questioning of ministers by council members, receive television and print media coverage.

The 1984 Press and Publication Law mandates government control over all printed matter, including newspapers and magazines. The law provides for strict prior censorship of all information in printed form in both domestic and imported publications. Imported printed material is screened by government censors, and Omani publications operate under general, unwritten government guidelines on tone and content. In practice, publishers in Oman censor themselves, avoiding anything that might be construed as an attack on the Government. Editors and reporters usually give government ministries an opportunity to respond before critical stories are printed. Friendly nations are also protected from direct attack. While the law provides for censorship prior to publication, in practice, publications often receive pro forma clearance and are distributed and reviewed concurrently. There were no reports of publishers having been forced to recall any editions in 1993. However, the Information Ministry issued a decree in July delaying for 1 day the distribution of newspapers published outside of Oman.

The Government owns two of the four daily newspapers, and government subsidies to the remaining dailies and several privately owned periodicals provide an effective incentive for self-censorship. Editorials and news coverage largely reflect the Government's views, although some latitude is tolerated on foreign policy issues. One Omani newspaper resumed publishing letters to the editor in 1993.

Publications and video and audio cassettes arriving from foreign countries are censored for politically, culturally, or sexually offensive material and are occasionally banned. There are no formal lists of objectionable material available to the public, but the censors' attention focuses primarily on articles that directly attack or embarrass the Government.

The Government controls all radio and television broadcasting and does not provide for the airing of political debate or nongovernment viewpoints. However, the free market in dish antennae has made a wide range of broadcast information accessible to the public.

Oman has one institution of higher learning, Sultan Qaboos University, established in 1986. Courses in politics and lectures on controversial subjects are prohibited. Access to the campus by persons outside the university community is limited but may be obtained for visitors.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of assembly is not guaranteed by law, and public gatherings may not take place without government sponsorship. However, this requirement is not always enforced in practice, and such gatherings have occurred without official sanction. If the authorities learn of an unauthorized gathering in time, they may order its cancellation. Associations of any kind must register with the Government and submit their by-laws to the concerned ministry for approval. Those that oppose the predominant social or political views of the Sultanate are prohibited. However, informal groupings, such as women's and expatriate clubs, are allowed to operate.

c. Freedom of Religion

Oman is an Islamic State. Most Omanis are Ibadhi or Sunni Muslims; there is also a Shi'a minority. Non-Muslims in the Sultanate are prohibited from proselytizing, and conversion to Islam is encouraged and publicized. Over 100 Saudi school- teachers departed Oman at the end of the school year when the Government declined to renew their contracts. Their departure was attributed, in part, to concern that some of the teachers were attempting to proselytize for their Wahhabi beliefs.

Non-Muslim foreigners are free to worship at churches and temples built on land donated by the Sultan. There are about 20 Christian denominations. A new Catholic church was completed in 1993 on a compound in the city of Sohar (the fourth such compound of church buildings in the country), and plans are under way for a new Protestant church at the same location. Clergymen also conduct services for smaller groups of their congregants throughout Oman. There is no indigenous Jewish community, but Jews are not barred from living and working in Oman. Non-Muslim religious publishing is not allowed, but non-Muslim texts and literature may be brought in to the country for use by non-Muslims.

Members of all religions and sects in Oman are free to maintain links with coreligionists in other countries and with the supranational hierarchies that exist for some denominations. They are also free to undertake religious travel, whether for the Muslim hajj, conferences, or consultations with religious leaders. Religion is not a factor in gaining entry into Oman, nor is it commonly a basis for job discrimination (see also Section 5).

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no restrictions on travel by Omanis within their country, with the exception of a ban on travel to a few military areas and a requirement that passes be obtained from the police to travel to certain areas. While male Omanis may travel abroad freely, a woman must have authorization from her husband, father, or nearest male relative to obtain a passport.

Omanis living abroad before 1970 have returned to Oman in large numbers with official encouragement and without legal obstacles. The returnees include the many Omanis who sought refuge in Yemen during the 1965-75 Dhofar rebellion. Thousands of ethnic Omanis from east Africa, particularly Tanzania, have been resettled and integrated successfully.

Oman does not have a standard policy on refugees and traditionally has not harbored stateless or undocumented aliens. Tight control over the entry of foreigners into the country has effectively screened out would-be refugees. The rare stateless or undocumented person who arrives in Oman may be detained pending a determination that he or she has not violated immigration or other laws. The Government deals with persons seeking resettlement on an ad hoc basis. Oman has assisted some non-Arab, Muslim refugees to be resettled in third countries.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Oman has no formal democratic political institutions, and its citizens do not have the ability peacefully to change their leaders or the political system. Oman has an autocratic system in which the Sultan has the final word on all government decisions in theory and in practice. His successor, should a change occur in the near future, will probably be determined through a consensus of the royal family and leading public figures.

There are no political parties, legal opposition groups, or elections, and there is no written constitution. Citizens have indirect access to senior officials through the traditional practice of petitioning local leaders for redress of grievances. Successful redress depends on the effectiveness of personal contact and the status and influence of the intermediary. People have access to the Government at the level of provincial governor (wali) and to their district representatives in the Majlis Ash-Shura. Provincial and tribal leaders and Majlis members in turn have access to the Sultan, his advisers, and ministry officials to present the views of their constituents and to accept their petitions. Citizens may also call on ministers and lower level officials. The Sultan makes an annual 3-week tour of the country to listen directly to his subjects' problems. Ministers accompany the Sultan and can be asked to respond directly to citizens' complaints. In rural areas, local government reflects the tribal nature of Omani society, as traditional elites dominate the tribal and appointive town councils. Final authority outside Muscat is with the provincial governors, who are appointed by the Sultan.

The Majlis Ash-Shura, established in 1991, is seen as a modest step toward broadening popular participation in the Government. The Sultan chose 59 of its 60 members from among three nominees from each district, selected in caucuses held in the spring of 1991 in which hundreds of leading citizens in each district participated. In contrast to the practice under the predecessor Council, no serving government officials are eligible to sit as members of the new Majlis. In its second full year of existence, the Majlis met four times in full session, as decreed by the Sultan. Its five committees met on virtually a weekly basis, preparing reports on agenda items for the full Council. The Council's stated purposes are to serve as a conduit of information between the people and the government ministries and to provide the citizens' perspective, sometimes local in scope and sometimes national, on issues that previously were the sole preserve of government officials.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no independent organizations to monitor human rights violations. Under the existing restrictions on freedoms of speech and association, public criticism of the Government's human rights practices would not be permitted. There were no known requests by international human rights organizations to visit Oman in 1993.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Women

There are many forms of discrimination against women in this traditional society, even though some women, primarily in the capital, have attained positions of authority in government, business, and the media. An estimated 14 percent of all civil servants are women. The occupational areas available to women are gradually expanding beyond the traditional field of teaching, as secretarial work, medicine, and communications have become acceptable professional areas for women over the last several years. However, some observers have noted a contraction of opportunities for women as the Government becomes more concerned about employment opportunities for men. In addition, some employers are concerned that female candidates for jobs might leave the work force to marry or have children, further diminishing women's opportunities for employment or for professional training.

Schooling for girls is available to the same extent as for boys in urban areas and increasingly so in rural areas. In general, the level of education that girls attain remains below that of boys; however, the gap appears to be narrowing. Over 90 percent of Oman's children reach grade five of primary education. Women constitute roughly half of the 3,000 students at Sultan Qaboos University. Women students constitute the majority in the colleges of arts, education, and Islamic sciences, and science and business. Over half of the first graduating class of the college of medicine in 1993 were women. Admission of women to faculties in some technical fields, however, has become severely restricted in a reflection of a reluctance both among employers to hire trained females for work in these fields outside the capital area and among trained females to accept work in them.

The gains achieved by a small minority of women are largely irrelevant to the great majority, who live their lives within the confines of the home. Many females in the rural areas are illiterate. The lack of female education in some outlying areas of the country, where poverty is higher, combined with communal and tribal customs that dictate a subsidiary role for women, makes it difficult for most adult women to participate fully in the modern sector.

By law, women are to receive equal pay and benefits for equal work. The Government, by far the largest employer of women in the country, enforces this regulation within its ministries, where women serve in professional and senior managerial positions. Women in the private sector earn salaries equal to those of their male counterparts. Women can sometimes have difficulty in obtaining land grants or subsidized government housing loans because the Government presumes that they will reside with a male relative, be it husband or brother. Legal provisions for female employees, including a provision for liberal maternity leave, are observed in both the public and private sectors. The Labor Law, in some ways very progressive, allows women with infants time off during the day to nurse.

Omani society's interpretation of Islamic precepts on the status of women also results in de jure and de facto discrimination in a number of areas. Islamic inheritance laws are strictly interpreted. A woman may receive only one-eighth of her husband's property when he dies. Daughters receive less than sons. In urban, educated families, many women have property in their own names; less educated women do not usually have that protection. Because of the relative lack of education among older women, many are unaware of their rights. Others are reluctant to use the court system out of fear that they might forfeit family support by bringing a matter before the court.

There is no evidence that there is a pattern of spouse abuse. Because of the closeness of Oman's extended families, battered women often seek family intervention to remove and protect them from violent domestic situations.

Children

The Government has made the health, education, and general welfare of children a priority in its budget. Medical care for Omani children is free, and a highly effective child immunization program has helped bring about dramatic improvements in child health. Communities in a few towns in the interior and in the Dhofar region still practice female genital mutilation (circumcision). The total number of cases nationwide is small and declining annually.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

While there are no government restrictions directed against Omanis of east African origin, some of these Omanis appear to face de facto discrimination in employment opportunities. Some public institutions ostensibly favor members of one or another regional, tribal, or religious group in their hiring. Each ethnic or national group has its patrons in certain sectors. No group is banned from employment in the public sector. A regionally based group that is favored in positions in its native region would not have the same advantages in a different area of the country.

Religious minorities

Oman's Muslim population includes a small Shi'a minority. Some Shi'as claim they face obstacles in employment and educational opportunities. Although there may be some grounds for these concerns, the main obstacle that the Shi'as face is that their limited number makes it difficult for them to develop an effective patronage group. Non-Muslim religious publishing is not permitted (see Section 2.c.).

People with Disabilities

The Government has taken some steps to address the public access needs of the handicapped, although compliance has been voluntary and not mandatory. There are handicapped parking spaces and some ramps for wheelchair access in front of private and government office buildings and shopping centers. In October the Government sponsored a handicapped awareness week to increase public knowledge of the problems facing the handicapped. The Government has established a few handicapped centers for children in Muscat and outlying regions. There are a few voluntary associations in Muscat which help people with disabilities, particularly handicapped children. Handicapped people, including the blind, work in government offices. Disabled students in wheelchairs successfully attend Sultan Qaboos University. The free medical assistance offered to all Omanis includes physical therapy for the handicapped.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Omani Labor Law does not anticipate or address the formation of labor unions. In practice, organizations representing only workers do not exist, and there have been no known efforts to form unions. The Labor Law specifies that "it is absolutely forbidden to provoke a strike for any reason." Labor unrest has been rare during the two decades Oman has been developing a modern economy. Nevertheless, there were at least three reported strikes in 1993. Workers reportedly struck at two garment factories due to labor-management disagreements about terminating workers' contracts. The strikes lasted a few days and were settled without resort to police enforcement of the law prohibiting strikes. The factory owners requested the assistance of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor in mediating two of the disputes. There were no reports that workers were forced to return to work. Oman is a member of the Arab Labor Organization and in 1993 decided to join the International Labor Organization.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining is not provided for in Omani law and is not practiced. However, according to the Labor Law, employers of more than 50 workers are required to form a joint body of labor and management representatives as a forum for communication between the two groups. However, implementation of this provision of the Labor Law appears to be uneven, and it is unclear how often the committees that do exist meet. Generally, these committees discuss such questions, for example, as living conditions in a company housing compound. Wages and hours are not under the purview of these committees; they are agreed upon by workers and employers in individual contracts, within the guidelines delineated by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor under the law. The committees are not formed across company lines; membership is confined to management and labor representatives from each individual company.

The 1973 Labor Law (as amended) defines conditions of employment for both Omanis and foreign workers. The Labor Law covers domestic workers and construction workers but does not cover temporary workers (those in Oman for less than three months). Foreign workers constitute at least 50 percent of the work force – if one includes the traditional Omani occupations of fishing, subsistence farming, and herding – and 80 to 90 percent of the work force in the modern sector. In August the Government promulgated a new regulation effective in March 1994, aimed at reducing the number of expatriate shopkeepers. The regulation prohibits the hiring of additional workers after that date. The initial concerns of the Omani business sponsors and the foreign shopkeepers have eased because the Government is allowing unlimited hiring of expatriates before the deadline and may consider amendments to the final regulation.

Citizens of India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka continue to seek employment in Oman in large numbers, generally entering into employment contracts prior to their arrival. Work rules must be approved by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and posted conspicuously in the workplace by employers of 10 or more workers. Similarly, any employer with 50 or more workers must establish a grievance procedure. Regardless of the size of the company, any employee, Omani or foreign, may file a grievance with the Labor Welfare Board, which comprises 6 inspectors who arbitrate disputes. Lower paid workers, such as clerks, mechanics, and salesmen, use the Board regularly. Both plaintiff and defendant may retain and be represented by counsel. Worker representatives may present collective grievances, but most cases are filed on behalf of individual workers.

The Board has a docket of about 150 cases per month, about 80 percent of which involve foreign nationals. Sessions convene daily; procedures are informal and summary in nature. The Board operates impartially and generally gives workers the benefit of the doubt in grievance hearings. Disputes that the Board cannot resolve are referred to the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor for decision. Complaints involving employer-employee relations should be brought before the magistrate court if there is an allegation of criminal wrongdoing.

There are no export processing zones in Oman.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Although prohibited by law, a form of compulsory labor occurs occasionally. Some employers withhold the letters of release that foreign workers require in order to transfer employment and residency sponsorship from one employer to another. Failing to secure a letter of release and legal transfer to another firm in Oman, a foreign national must either continue working at his current workplace or become technically unemployed. To avoid that status and the possibility of being forced to leave the country, some employees submit to their employers' coercion.

Some employers demand that foreign workers perform overtime or remain at a firm for several months against their wishes, in some cases without compensation, in exchange for the promise of a release letter. This practice is proscribed by law. However, labor inspections in the workplace are rare, and it generally falls to the worker to approach the Labor Welfare Board to report a violation. Many foreign workers are not aware of their right to a hearing on a labor dispute before the Labor Welfare Board. Workers may engage attorneys to argue cases before the Board, and in most cases the Board releases the employee immediately from service with back compensation for the time worked under compulsion. The employer faces no penal sanction if the Board decides in the worker's favor. The only penalty against an employer is the loss of the worker and the compensation payment made to him.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Under the law, children, defined as those under the age of 13, are prohibited from working. This prohibition is effectively enforced by the Directorate of Labor under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Juveniles, defined as those over 13 years and under 16 years of age, are prohibited from performing evening or night work or strenuous labor. Juveniles are also forbidden to work overtime or on weekends or holidays without the permission of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. There are no export industries in which child labor is used. Omani children are sometimes employed as riders in camel races, but they generally ride under the auspices of their families. Their involvement in the races does not preclude them from access to education and medical care. There were no instances in which child camel jockeys suffered serious injury.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Using its legal authority to determine the minimum wage and make adjustments according to economic circumstances, the Government issues minimum wage guidelines for various categories of workers. The current minimum wage for nonprofessional workers, set in 1979, is approximately $156 per month (60 Omani rials). Minimum wage guidelines do not cover domestic servants, farmers, government employees, or workers in small businesses – a considerable segment of the total work force. In some public sector jobs requiring a high degree of specialization, foreign workers earn a higher wage than Omani counterparts. However, many foreign workers are in categories exempt from the minimum wage statute. For menial work that is subject to the minimum wage, lax enforcement by the Directorate of Labor usually permits employers to pay less than the legal standard. The minimum wage is sufficient to provide an Omani worker in the capital area with a decent subsistence, with something left over to send to family members living in rural areas, as is the custom. The compensation for foreign manual laborers and clerks (mainly south Asians) is sufficient to cover living expenses and to permit a portion of the income to be sent home.

The private sector workweek is 40 to 45 hours (less for Muslims during Ramadan) and includes a rest period from Thursday afternoon through Friday, which many shopkeepers and their employees opt not to observe. While the law does not designate the number of days in a workweek, it requires at least one 24-hour rest period per week and mandates overtime pay for hours in excess of 48 per week. In practice, the workweek is 5 days in the public sector and generally 5 1/2 days in the private sector. Some menial laborers not protected by the Labor Law are required by a few employers to work longer hours under substandard working conditions. Supplemental income through compensated overtime work is common for lower level employees.

Every worker has the right to 15 days of annual leave during the first 3 years of employment and 30 days per year thereafter. Employers provide many foreign nationals, including maids, with annual or biennual round-trip tickets to their countries of origin. Employers commonly hold foreign workers' passports, as they are legally responsible for the workers' actions while they are in Oman.

The Labor Law and regulations cover in detail issues of occupational safety and access to medical treatment. For example, all employers must provide first aid facilities, and those with over 100 employees in one location must also employ a nurse at that location. Employees covered under the Labor Law may recover compensation for industrial injury or illness through medical insurance, which the employer must provide. The health and safety standard codes are enforced by inspectors from the Department of Health and Safety of the Directorate of Labor. They make frequent on-site inspections, as required by law.

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