Oman’s OHRC responds to BBC’s Malawi documentary

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Muscat: The Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has issued a statement on a report broadcast by BBC Africa concerning female workers from the Republic of Malawi. The statement is as below:

“The Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC) observed the documentary film and report broadcast by BBC Africa regarding female workers from the Republic of Malawi who were allegedly subjected to human trafficking according to the network’s report. Consequently, the OHRC expresses concerns about the condition of these workers who were allegedly harmed as a result, and without it being reported to the Oman Human Rights Commission nor the national bodies for protecting workers’ rights in the Sultanate of Oman.

As per the OHRC’s mandates stipulated under article (11), paragraph (3) of Royal Decree No. 57/2022, to respond to any observations raised by government or non-government international organisations in the field of human rights within the Sultanate of Oman, and to verify and respond to the information contained therein, Oman Human Rights Commission would like to clarify the following:

1- The report dealt with 50 women domestic workers of Malawian nationality without sufficient details on those cases, regardless of a few cases. Furthermore, the report mentioned that those cases had previously left the Sultanate of Oman.

2—According to the report, female workers were deceived by recruitment agencies in their home country. Therefore, the Malawian Government should investigate and address the issue domestically.

3- The report further verified that female workers had been in contact with international organisations and civil society outside Oman through social media, demonstrating their capability to utilise such channels to reach out to national mechanisms in Oman dedicated to protecting workers’ rights. Such national mechanisms allocated several means (social media) to receive communications available 24 hours; accordingly, these workers may access various communication channels. Additionally, they could have informed airport authorities of their refusal to travel back to their home countries until their rights were settled if the recruitment agency insisted on their travel.

4- The report contains inaccurate information that contradicts the actual situation in Oman, as highlighted by the non-governmental international organisation “Do Bold”. The organisation emphasised that workers in Oman are not able to substitute for their employers and are not permitted to leave the country under dire circumstances. On the other hand, according to The Oman Labor Law, employers are prohibited from subjecting workers to any form of forced or compulsory labour as stipulated under Article (5). Additionally, as per Article (6), employers are not allowed to confiscate workers’ passports or personal documents.

5- The “Do Bold” organisation did not contact the Oman Human Rights Commission about the incidents mentioned within the report. However, “Do Bold” regularly interacts with the Commission concerning female workers from different nationalities, and OHRC promptly responds to assist, intervene, and find solutions for such cases.

6- The report addressed the death of Aida Chiwalo, a domestic worker who tragically died in Oman in 2023. The reason for her death remains unknown, and the report suggests that she was neglected by the Employment Office in Oman.

Based on the published report, the Oman Human Rights Commission confirms that it received two complaints only from Malawian female domestic workers in 2023 regarding breaches of their employment contracts by the recruitment agency. In collaboration with the Ministry of Labor, legal actions were initiated against the agency owner, which bore all financial costs, and the two workers were repatriated to their home countries.

Regarding the correspondence received by OHRC from “Do Bold”, only one communication was received concerning a Malawian domestic worker. The organisation was asked for further information about the worker. However, the organisation later informed the Commission’s working group that the issue had been resolved with the employer through alternative means, resulting in the worker’s repatriation, without requiring intervention from the Oman Human Rights Commission. No further details about the worker were shared with the Commission.

Official national statistics indicate that by the end of February 2024, there were 626 Malawian women workers in the country. The statistics also reflected that Malawian women domestic workers represent around 0.3% of the 202,368 total female domestic workforces of all nationalities in Oman. While the cases highlighted in the press report are extremely limited in number, consequently, the Commission expresses concerns about cases where female domestic workers or international non-governmental organisations fail to contact the Oman Human Rights Commission or relevant official authorities responsible for protecting workers rights in Oman assuming the information presented is accurate.

The Commission emphasises that Omani laws and legislation protect the rights of workers, including domestic workers. Furthermore, these laws ensure that workers are paid their agreed-upon monthly wages within seven days of each month’s end, provided with sufficient food and accommodation, and receive medical care from their employer throughout their contract.

In Addition, the law mandates that domestic workers have break time during the day and a weekly rest day and are entitled to leave after the agreed-upon period in their employment contract. The law emphasises the importance of providing decent and humane treatment that upholds the worker’s dignity.

Furthermore, domestic workers are provided with a return ticket to their home country, which the recruitment agency covers within 180 days of their arrival if it is determined that their job is different from the one specified in the recruitment permit, if they are mentally ill or contagious, or if they have a disability that prevents them from performing their duties. Domestic workers may also be given a return ticket at the employer’s expense after the contract period expires or due to the employer’s violation of the contract.

The Sultanate of Oman enforces a legal framework that ensures workers’ rights in alignment with international labour norms, the Basic Statute of State, the Omani Labor Law, ministerial resolutions, Convention No. 105 on the Abolition of Forced Labor, ILO Convention No. 29 on Forced Labor, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In relation to the Domestic Worker case named “Aida Chiwalo”, who passed away in Oman in 2023, the OHRC confirms, based on investigations, that her death was natural, attributed to a decrease in blood circulation, with no criminal suspicions reported by official authorities in Oman. Following her demise, the Omani authorities contacted the deceased worker’s family, who initially agreed to have her buried in Oman in exchange for financial compensation instead of repatriation. However, the Government of Malawi declined this arrangement. Consequently, the body was repatriated on June 12, 2023. Upon investigation, the Commission found that the recruitment agency had arranged for all necessary procedures for transporting and preserving the body for repatriation, contingent on the Malawian Embassy providing a repatriation ticket as requested. The employer also ensured the worker’s family received compensation for the ticket and all financial entitlements. Support was extended to the worker’s family, including assistance in purchasing a house in Malawi. The Commission affirms that its investigations were in-depth and transparent and involved reviewing relevant documents with both Omani competent authorities and the recruitment agency and employer. Regarding national mechanisms for protecting workers’ rights, workers can report complaints through various channels, such as the Ministry of Labor, the Royal Oman Police, the Public Prosecution, the National Committee against Trafficking in Persons, and the Oman Human Rights Commission.

Various methods for receiving workers’ reports have been designated, including:

1-In-person Attendance.

2- Contact hotlines.

3- Text messaging.

4- WhatsApp program.

5- Voicemail.

6-Email.

7-Website.

In situations where domestic workers fall victim to human trafficking and are subjected to exploitation beyond the bounds of their employment contract or coerced into illicit labour, they may report to the National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking. This committee takes appropriate actions to protect the impacted workers and oversee their rights. Additionally, they collaborate with the Ministry of Social Development, which has established a shelter for human trafficking victims known as the “Dar AlWifaq”, which aims to provide legal aid, healthcare, psychological support, and accommodation for the victims to alleviate the repercussions of any exploitation. In addition, the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking created a quick response team in 2019 to address any reports of human trafficking cases.

Finally, the Oman Human Rights Commission confirms its collaboration with international governmental and non-governmental organisations on matters concerning the promotion and protection of human rights in Oman, particularly with the “Do Bold” organisation in addressing the protection of workers’ rights and investigate and resolve cases referred by the organisation in cooperation with the relevant authorities in Oman.

Since its establishment in 2008, the Oman Human Rights Commission has functioned as an independent institution established by Royal Decree No. 57/2022aiming to protect and promote human rights in Oman. The Commission endeavours to ensure that all individuals in Oman, regardless of nationality or employment status, access and enjoy their fundamental human rights without prejudice.

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