So surely by now you've all seen or heard about the story on the front page of Muscat Daily today? The article basically says that a group of Omani staff members working at t'intercon are on strike (now for a second day) because they have a list of demands they have submitted.
Now I'm not really too sure how to correctly word this, so I'll just be straight forward.... even though I'm sure I'm going to get a few haters who will point out some of my many flaws. That's ok, I still stand by my thoughts. So anyway, W.T.F is going on in these people's heads? Here's the list of demands, I've bolded the ones I agree with:
• Eight per cent share of service charges
• Ministry of Tourism to take over hotel's administration from Omran
• Living expenses allowance
• Health insurance for staff and family
• 50 per cent discount on food and beverages
• Revision of human resource policy structure
• Annual performance assessment for all staff
• Specific date on which bonuses should be paid
• Separate housing allowance from basic salary
• Office for labour union
• Healthy food at staff restaurant
• Six-hour duty during summer and a special allowance to cover extra hours
• An allowance to cover risk during night shifts
• On-premises accommodation for staffers from outside Muscat governate
Now, some of these I can understand as quite reasonable: Annual performance assessments, office for labour union, healthy food at the staff restaurant, revision of human resources policy structure & a 50% discount for staff and family. I think those are pretty fair and reasonable requests for employees to be asking of their management.
The rest though, haha, what on earth are these people thinking? Could you imagine staff working at The W in NYC going on strike because they wanted their employers to be changed from one Government entity to another? haha! lunacy! Demanding an 8% share of service charges... I presume these people do not quite comprehend that they are, in fact, the service, and that their salaries are funded by these service charges?
The real corkers though; a living expenses allowance, health insurance, housing allowance, 6 hour shifts in the summer & a special night shift allowance. Let's be clear here, when I moved from where I grew up to another city to work, my job did not pay for me to rent a house near to my work. I was expected to be able to get to, and from, my place of work by designated working hours on my own. So if I was living in.... Nizwa, and wanted to work as a waiter at the InterCon in Qurum... well that's my choice to move 1.5 hours away for a job. My salary is my salary, people should learn to live within their abilities. I fail to understand why it is an employers problem if an employee has blown all their salary on something. If someone cannot afford a smart phone and accompanying data plan... then they should not get it. Same for OSN, cars, etc etc. I remember my first year out of university in a new job, new city and new continent - baked beans on toast was a very regular meal in my flat, which was also in a particularly shady part of town. Why did I live there & eat that.... because it was all I could afford. I distinctly remember a panicked call over-seas to my parents because I didn't have enough money to buy my monthly transit pass to get to my job for the next month. Luckily for me, my family helped me out - I certainly didn't go to my employers and ask for more money because I didn't have enough to get to my job.
Now, the rising cost of food and utilities affects us all, and I do believe that national inflation rates should perhaps be looked at a little closer to see if they really reflect a true increase in living costs here. I remember when I first moved here, a samosa at al fair was 50bz. The same samosa now is 350bz, a 7-fold increase in price in 5 years. The argument that someone cannot feed their family of 7 children, well if you want to live in a modern and progressive country, take a look around the world at developed nations, and look at the average number of children families have there.. It'll be a lot less than 7. While thats all very pious to sit here and say that... these people have these kids and they are not statistics, they are real live people. The parents need to work harder to bring more income in to feed their family, or approach the state for social assistance. Again, I don't see how it's an employers problem - unless you happen to be a very good employee and the employer is prepared to pay up to keep you from going somewhere else.
As for working only 6 hours in the summer - this, I could maybe entertain if the staff member in particular is posted somewhere outside in the heat all day, but if you are a chef or a cleaner or security... then I fail to see what difference there is for the time of year, except that during the summer hotels here are not as busy and so you don't have as much work to do. To be honest though, I'd say a more reasonable request would be to have additional breaks in adequate air-conditioned staff rooms to allow staff to cool off should they need it.
Every Omani citizen living in this country is granted access to the national healthcare system. I for one wish I could get access to the world-class care available at the Government hospitals here. The only nicer thing I think private healthcare has here is that they are nicer to wait / stay in, in terms of aesthetics. Perhaps I'm wrong, I'm entirely willing to listen to peoples arguments as to why Government healthcare here is not up to scratch. I am, after all, from a land where the Government healthcare has many failings. I once worked in a pub, that was part of a very large corporate chain. I was a very small cog in a very large machine, and I did not even expect to get private medical insurance - so perhaps I'm biased - but why should a cleaner in a hotel here demand private healthcare - lets be real here.... they are a cleaner, or waiter, security guard, etc. My point is... unskilled labour. If you are a skilled labourer (eg a cook) then that's another story.
So, what do you think about it all? I've checked with GM's of other 5* hotels and they've said the same thing to me: Omani staff are paid the same as expatriate staff for service-level jobs. Some jobs, like waiters or concierges, Omani's receive a special additional payment just because they are Omani, so they are already being paid more than expatriate workers in the same job.
Poor old David Todd, the newly appointed director of operations for the hotel (essentially a General Managers position). He's handed a sinking ship: dwindling F&B revenues at it's bars & restaurants (Al Gazal is a ghost town these days - no thanks to Habana Sports Bar & O'Malleys) and an aged hotel which is due to be closed in an as-yet undisclosed time-frame, but widely expected to be within 2 years. And on top of all that, his Omani staff go on strike days after he takes command. Baptism of fire I'd say - good luck to him.
Omanization has forced employers to employ staff primarily based on their nationality, with a secondary consideration to their skill set. In a free market, if you are not good at your job, you get fired, and someone else will be willing to take on that job. If no one is willing to do the job, then the compensation for the position needs to be increased to make the position attractive enough for someone to want the job. Here, in Oman, we have a 2-tierd job market - one is "free" and the other, ever-increasing share of the job market is "Omanized". Absolutely there is a need for Omanization, and I'm not going to go into this subject much further because it's just too big. The problem, for employers here, is that in order to conduct business here, a % of the staff must be Omani. And Omani's know this, and getting an Omani fired can be a very long and drawn out process. I understand that the % for hotels here in Oman is that 30% of all staff must be Omani, with quotas increased on a yearly basis by the Ministry of Manpower. Many long-standing 5* hotels have Omanization quota's as high as 85%, so this is a pretty big issue for hotels here.
So the big question is... are the Omani staff at the InterCon playing their hand? Knowing that their jobs are safe regardless of what they do - why not have a punt at some outrageous demands? It's almost every week that we hear about another strike here in Oman now. If it's not the oil-field workers, it's the electricity meter readers, or it's the hotel staff, or the airport people, and so on. A wise man once said to me that the Middle East is a land which rulers must rule with a big stick, as it's the only thing people ultimately respect - power. I wonder if a clear message will ever be sent that people must live within their means, and to stop demanding hand-outs for everything? I wonder what will happen when Oman inevitably has to implement personal taxation? One thing's for sure - constant strikes by the Omani workforce here do not fill foreign investors with confidence to start or invest in businesses in the Sultanate.