So by now everyone will have heard the story that the Times of Oman broke earlier in the week, when on Wednesday the Ministry of Manpower inspected workers at the Muscat International Airport project and found more than 1,000 workers with visas that didn't allow them to work as Construction workers. Apparently the MOM guys stopped the buses bringing the workers into the site right at the security gate and arrested those who didn't have the correct documentation.
This news was then followed with a statement from the Minister of Transport and Communications, Dr Al Futaisi that said, "This (arrest) issue will neither hamper the construction at the airport nor will it delay the opening of the new airport which is expected to be opened at the end of 2016."
Now, obviously the good Dr will have a much better handle on this project than you or I would, it is, after all, his job to know this and I'm sure he has various plans in place to mitigate any delays seen as a result of this culling of illegal workers at the airport.
But how can there be absolutely no delay or hampering on progress? Let's make a few assumptions: There are 1,000 workers, and each worker does a 10 hour day. That's 10,000 man hours of lost productivity per day and so far I assume these workers have not yet been replaced. The raids happened on Wednesday, and today is Tuesday... so Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday & today.... that's 50,000 man hours of productivity lost, assuming no one works on Friday, which I understand is not actually the case - there is work done on Fridays on the airport. My point is, there is no way that this loss of productivity, if left un-replaced, cant be maintained - a delay is inevitable, and surely hampering has already occurred? I guess the question here is, what's the definition of a delay?
Dictionary.com has a definition of hamper that says:
verb (used with object)
1.To hold back; hinder; impede:
A steady rain hampered the progress of the work.
2.To interfere with; curtail:
The dancers' movements were hampered by their elaborate costumes.
Surely a loss of at the very minimum of 50,000 man hours productivity would be something that hampers the project? I don't know, perhaps 50,000 man hours is a drop in the ocean on that job, I've no idea how many employees are on the job.
Because it's never really made clear in the press here, a little fun fact for you: The MC3 contract was formally awarded on 23 February 2011 (but it was announced that it was being awarded in October 2010), and was a Design & Build lump sum contract with a handover date of April 23, 2014. Yup, the airport's over a year late so far, and latest news reports are saying the airport will now not be open until the end of 2016!
So how can a statement say that there will be no delay in the delivery of the airport, when it's already a year late, and going to be another year and a half late? Obviously an extension to the contract must have been given, but I'm assuming that information is sensitive or confidential because I can't find it anywhere in the public domain.
The news reports are silent on who the offending contractors are, but when people refer to the airport project, they usually mean Main Contract 3, which is the big terminal building with the carparks and access roads leading to it. The Runway (MC 1) and Control tower (MC 2) contracts are almost finished (I think, the runway is operational and I'm assuming people are working away in the tower).
So really, there are 3 main Contracts on the airport that involve major construction (as opposed to installing IT kit or baggage handling systems etc). If I were a gambling man, which I'm not, I'd say that these 1,000 illegals were probably working on MC 3 as sub-contractors to the main contractor on that MC. The contractor for MC 1 is a JV between CCC and TAV, MC 2 is Carillion Alawi, and the really big contract, MC3, is a JV between Bechtel, ENKA and Bahwan Engineering Company, and they call it BEB. I seriously doubt any of these main contractors would employ illegal workers, I'd be very, very surprised if they did. I mean, how exactly does one obtain a visa for a coffee shop worker when it's a contracting company?
So, the main contractors have probably appointed sub-contractors to carry out various parts of the job, and those sub-contractors may very well have subbed out parts of their work too. I guess the question is, were the workers that were found to have visa's that didn't fit with their jobs employee's of the sub-contractors, or were they actually employed by coffee shops etc, and had just done a runner to work on the airport instead? If that's the case why didn't the sponsors of those employees not register them as absconding? And will those sponsors be the ones fined?
Mmmm! More concerning than that little money spinner is that it's been reported that the Ministry of Manpower will not issue visa's to the offending companies either. So if some of these offending companies were actually the sub-contractors to BEB, how exactly will they replace their labour (legally) so that they can finish off the job? So you'll have a situation where BEB will have to appoint other sub-contractors onto the project to do the work the now black-listed (from a visa point of view) sub-contractors wont be able to do, or perhaps, those 1,000 illegals will just be replaced in a few weeks with new illegals instead. Or perhaps a mix of both?
All of that aside, it's a shame that the new completion date for the airport is now the end of 2016 (the previously published completion date was early 2016 from the arabianindistry.com website). Hopefully we'll all get to enjoy the experience of walking straight off a plane into the airport without having to wait for a bus by the end of next year then!