Saturday, January 22, 2011
11


Firstly, it's been raining, obviously! I enjoy the rain, especially listening to it at night. Its been looking like it was going to rain for days and days, so I was happy when it finally started to pour yesterday (I get a couple days off from watering my plants!). There were a few drops on Thursday as well but not much. The latest forecast on Weather Underground shows that by Monday we should be back to the sun.

Now, someone commented on a previous post of mine their surprise about me choosing not to write about the demonstration (Green March) last week. I wanted to devote a bit more time to it before blurbing about it in my jumbled up post last week.

Last week, on Monday the 17th January, 2011, approximately 200 (source is this Gulf News article) Omani's demonstrated in the Wizarat Ministries area protesting over the rising cost of living, low wages and corruption. As far as protests go, this was pretty poorly attended. Which surprises me because there was clearly quite some organization in getting an approval to come and protest, yet spreading the word about the protest did not seem to be done very well (it seems it was done via SMS messages). The Gulf News article seems to attempt to link this demonstration with those that have recently been occurring in Tunisa. No idea why, and I think perhaps the author was trying to spin something into their article that simply wasn't there.
Thank you to Habiba Hinai of Al Harah web forum (Google translation) for the pictures

People were chanting:

Salaries! Salaries! Jobs! Jobs! No to corruption! No to corruption!

Now, the cost of living here in Muscat has indeed increased pretty sharply in recent years, and I certainly believe that there are many Omani nationals here who are under-paid for one reason or another. I have no doubts in my mind that there is corruption here as well.

I think the pay scale should be the same for many jobs here. There's plenty of competent and capable Omani's who are paid less for doing the same job as an expatriate worker. Let's be clear here, Salary is different to living allowances, which are often paid to expatriate workers to cover their incurred living expenses for moving here to the Sultanate. That is another kettle of fish but is essentially the carrot to bring people like me over here.

For me, the single biggest piece of news here was that a demonstration was allowed to even take place. I'm going to put myself out there a bit and say that for the most part, Omani's are very fortunate people, they have these following nice perks:

  • Free healthcare
  • Subsidized fuel, power and water (heavily subsidized)
  • Omanization protecting jobs (you wont see this in Europe)
  • Practically free land awarded via lottery frequently
  • No income tax
  • No property/council tax
  • No road tax (just the RO 20 per year renewal fee for the mulkia)

However, the minimum wage for Omani's (holding high school diploma certificates) is pathetically low (its around RO 150), and as the cost of basic food items has increased, and continues to do so, this minimum wage has not been increased. This rise in food costs is reflecting the world market's general trends as a whole, but many people do not see an uplift in their salaries each year to account for inflation.

It appeared that the demonstration was targeting the Merchants who are charging increased costs for these basic foodstuffs. That could really only mean flour and rice, seeing as how Oman locally produces dairy products, meat, vegetable and fruits, and the cost of these items are low.

Merchants such as Lu-Lu's, Carrefour, The Sultan Centre, Al Fair and so on are naturally charging for items to generate a profit, this is the nature of a free market. Perhaps what is needed is a combination of increased salaries (revised minimum wage) to those in low-paying jobs, and an industry watch-dog to ensure that merchants are not gouging customers at the tills.

But that is not the entire story. It is all too often a common story when you hear about people and their debt's here. That is another blog post in itself, and one I probably would not do justice, something more up Muscati or Undercover Dragons street. Possibly people here are living beyond their means, and I'm generalizing and know full well that not every Omani is living beyond their means, but as a general trend, it seems this way. People changing their phones every few months, brand new cars and so on. So perhaps a little attitude change from people is required as well?

I'd hazard a guess that the three big loans that any Omani (man, women would be a slightly different story) has to obtain are:

1. Car
2. Marriage
3. House

You start work, and you need a car. So one is financed. How many people buy brand-new cars on finance, when realistically they should do what many other people just starting out around the world do, and buy used? (read: really used! - my first car was a Citroen ZX 1.4 and it was a dog, it kept over heating, one time the brakes even stopped working when driving in rush-hour city traffic!).

Why throw an over-sized wedding if you can't afford it? Why must Dowry's be paid? These seem social issues that are effecting the economic health of the citizens of this country. And as Oman matures as a developed nation, the harsh reality that having a large number of children is not something that can be sustained economically.

And finally, the single biggest commitment most of us will make in our lives (and no I don't mean saying "I do") is getting a mortgage to buy a home.

It's a fact of life for almost all of us in this world - we do not have enough money to buy a home, and so we need to borrow the money to do so. And hopefully over time the value of our home increases and we can build our financial stability around it. How are people earning these low wages meant to feed and clothe themselves, before even attempting to start buying a home?

It would seem that the minimum wage is simply too low. People need to earn more money to keep up with inflation.

What do you all think?

le fin.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

In general yes of course, a job should pay the same no matter what your ethinic background.

However, you made one comment about jobs for Omani's with a high school certificate... have you seen the standard of some of the education received by people here - more to the point, the fact that I've heard from some female omani friends of mine that they 'weren't allowed to be failed by the teacher'. So, even if they didn't do very well, they get their diploma, degree, certificate or whatever.

In this case, sorry, but there should also be recognition for "the best qualified for the job" regardless of ethnic background.

Don't get me wrong, I actually think Omaisation is a great idea, but the implementation of it isn't that great. Putting people a job BASED on ethnicity and not qualifications/suitability is not really going to do the economy any favours in the long run............

Bobby said...

Bravo! Being underpaid with Omanis is something new may be because my Dads works in Govt and there every Omani is payed (perhaps 2x) more...It is rather saddening that King is loved by all and his administration is not loved by everyone.

To Anon:
I liked the point that jobs shouldn't be based on ethnicity but i feel it is must at least in the initial stages of Omanization...

Anonymous said...

Correction - alot of Omani students were sent and still being sent overseas on scholarships or privately paid by their parents and alot have come back with better qualifications than their expat bosses. Therefore dont generalise and say they all not qualified but be specific - low income workers whose parents couldnt afford to send them to private schools or universities. I still dont get why the ministry had to involve in salary scale of Omanis especially in the private sector and force it to be reduced - yes we have all heard of The Carrefour Incident as it was printed in the local papers. The problem with Oman Economy is the Monopoly Game which is still in place by the same people for the same people and until this is abolished and other investors allowed in - there will be no improvement in the economy or the job market. As you pointed out the the three main factors which are a must - transport, home and daily expenses but at OR 150 who can even dream let alone manage. And where in the GCC of today do their citizens earn OR 150 - except in Oman.

A. A. Ali

Anonymous said...

Nice post Sythe. On the debt issue, a friend of mine had seen a telling report that stated 70 times the monthly salary was the average debt per person. When you look at the average car owned even the lower paid workers drive, you can believe it.

On qualifications, I have interviewed so many SQU graduates in my field who do not have even a fundamental grasp of the basic principles after 3 years or more of study. Education is one thing but applying it is another, and it is the latter where so many Omanis (and others) fail. Simon

JT said...

My feeling is that many Omanis may find it hard to scrape together even that minimum 150RO you're talking about.

The reality can be harsher than you've painted. Remember that many wives don't work, so you only have a single breadwinner for a household with (usually) several children, all of whom have to be fed and clothed.

Remember the extended family members, whom the typical Omani also has to help. There are gifts to come up with for celebrations, expenses for
funerals, reciprocal banquets to throw.

And even if you get your home you will still need to pay utility bills, and for petrol for the car. You don't only need to feed yourself; you have to feed the household and buy "maintenance products" - toiletries, detergents etc.

There are annual costs - renewal of the car insurance, for one.

Some of these costs are subsidised, others aren't. An Omani man is usually married, living in his own home (owned or rented), with a car, and kids. Maybe he can meet his costs if he's well educated and in a well paying job. The rest - high school educated and/or without a good job.. are in big trouble.

Anonymous said...

"Underpaid Omani" is a weird hypothesis. It is the other way round; Omani does the work or not, he is paid more than his counterpart expatriate. Lets start with the worker/labour category. Go to the site and check for yourself. Mostly expatriates who are paid just RO 45 to RO 70 + camp + food. They move out of their camp between 4.30am & 5:30am to start work at site by 5:30am. May be plus or minus half our. And the nationals who has a compulsory RO 140 turns up at site by 7 or 8 am. Worst case scenario, they might turn up with a cola at 9am and fight with the supervisor for attendance. And the supervisor grants it fearing attack.

Lets move one segment up. Heavy vehicle drivers. Majority, say more than 95% Omani drivers makes sure the gear and brakes are worn out! There is no trained segment. And contractors cannot wait to train them since they are forced to appoint them to achieve Omanization.

Nationals should take up grass root jobs also. They are happy to be the cashier at shops at fuels stations. But not willing to fill fuel for the vehicles! They like to drive water tanks but not the sewage (yellow) tanks.

Be it expatriate/Omani, all are human beings. The heat is still the same on the skin & the smell is same on the nose.

The banks, PDO, telecom, etc. are corporates who are lucky to have the creamy layer. I have seen well educated & informed Nationals working with these employers. These nationals are very competitive and excel at par with expatriates. Unfortunately smaller companies cannot afford to hire them.

However, Omanization policy is the best initiative that the Sultante of Oman has taken to protect as well as enable the citizens and it is definitely a wise move. But "all" citizens are not ready for it. Strike will not help. Willingness to do the job is most important.

Sythe said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

It's been well documented before that educational institutions need to be monitored and fined heavily should they be found to be glorified diploma mills.

As peoples needs change, so will their attitude. Unfortunately it seems it's a slow process.

Terry said...

Won't simply raising the salaries just add to the inflation? If only it really was that simple.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sythe. But here is something that has been over looked by most of the people bloggin here.

8.2 million sq meter is developed around the palace area. Training Camp for Royal Guard and barracks. Below are the staff details.

Omani Staff with Al Turki:
Salary OMR 150 - Working Hours 7:30am to 11:00am
(Only 3 hours a day)

Expat Staff with Al Turki:
Salary OMR 80 to 90 - Working Hours 6:00am to 1:00am
(OMR 15/month deducted for food. Accommodation is provided free of cost)

Now please tell me WHO is paid more?

Mr. Banyan said...

I am an expat employer of 10 Omani nationals and pay them approx OMR 150-165 per month. We have a medium scale foodstuff outlet. I know the commodity prices trends during the last 5 years. Today essential commodity prices are gone up by atleast 50%. Sugar has gone up by more than 90%. Palm Oil is up 85%. (Compared to 2004 prices)

The basic salary should be increased to OMR 180-190 for all Omani nationals. It's good for the economy. In that way, Omani nationals are less dependent on Social Allowance given by HH Sultan Qaboos.

And if possible, better education (esp. English) in the interiors would defn. help the local population look for high paying jobs within city limits.

Simba said...

Good article, the steep increase in cost of living should stabilize now....

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