Saturday, November 15, 2008

Unequal treatment

We had a family emergency last month. My parents traveled to Germany immediately after my daughter's birth. While they were there my mom started to feel increasing pain in her abdomen and finally was taken to the emergency room where it was determined that she had gallstones which would require the removal of the gallbladder. As soon as I heard the news I immediately decided that I would fly to Frankfurt to be there. Luckily, I had taken a one year Schengen visa when I went to France and Germany earlier this year.

My brother wanted to go too, but he was at the mercy of the German embassy. You see, the standard procedure for getting a visa to Germany usually takes about two weeks. With the use of wasta, including official letters from the government here to the embassy requesting them to issue an expedited visa, the procedure was still going to take 5 working days. My brother asked for a meeting with the German ambassador to see if maybe he can get him to expedite the procedure. He took with him copies of medical records and explained to the ambassador why he wanted to travel to Germany. The ambassador replied to him that this isn't really an emergency because my father is there with my mother in Germany. If she was there alone, then it would be considered one. Apparently, my brother could be using my mother's situation as an excuse to get into Germany!

Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. Long story short, my brother got the visa four days later and arrived the night before our mother's operation. Everything went well, al-hamd lillah, and she's back in Oman now.

The reason I'm writing this post is that I am pissed off that Oman has a visa on arrival policy for countries that don't have quick visa procedures for Omani citizens. A German can step off a plane at Muscat International Airport and get a visa to stay in Oman for 14 days at the affordable price of 7 Omani Rials. Whereas we Omanis have to subject ourselves to all types of poking and prodding to be "allowed" to visit their country. We have to show bank account statements and get letters from our employers and salary statements. We have to show our hotel bookings. If we are going on business we need letters of invitation from the companies we're going to visit. And even after we receive the visa, when we arrive in their country we have to go through a whole other barrage of questions and answers. "Why are you here? Where are you staying? Have you been here before..."

As an official in the German embassy told me last year when I first went there to get a visa: this is policy, it is not just for Oman. (I heard this sentence from officals in the US, UK and French embassy as well).
Policy is policy, fair enough. The German government does not want people to get easy visas. It's their country and it's their choice. They have a problem with people coming to Germany and then seeking asylum or staying on illegally. I haven't heard of any Omanis migrating to Germany, but as the woman in the embassy said, "this is policy", and I swore at that time to never let myself go through their crap again. And when I had to go to Germany again, I applied for a Schengen visa from the French embassy.

But why doesn't our government apply a policy of equal treatment? Countries that don't give quick visas for Omanis should have a similar policy applied to their citizens by the Omani government. If it takes two weeks for an Omani to obtain a German visa, German citizens shouldn't be given visas on arrival here in Oman. Will that stop Germans from visiting Oman? I don't think so. They'll just have to plan their visits and allow for the time it takes to get the Omani visa. After all, we still go to their countries even though we have to go through a hassle to get their visas.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Salary statistics for Omanis in the private sector

I have a backlog of things I want to blog about. I'll begin with this, which is a quick summary of a news item I found in one of the Arabic dailies (I think it was Oman newspaper) on October 19th.

According to the newspaper, this information is taken from the Ministry of National Economy monthly statistics. I have no reason to doubt them. There is no information on whether the data is based on basic salary only or full pay. It's quite reasonable to assume that in the higher pay levels, the numbers are low because of deliberate misreporting. Also, the data probably doesn't include the pay of self-employed Omanis as well as the owners and partners in businesses. Regardless of that, the figures are incredibly depressing:

In 2007 the number of Omanis employed in the government dropped from 139,000 to 133,000. Meanwhile the number of Omanis in the private sector increased to 131,000 (it increased by a further 10,000 in the first six months of 2008).

The pay distribution for Omanis in the private sector is:

Up to RO. 120 a month: 60,270 employees

RO 120-140: 20,082 employees

RO. 140-160: 17,075 employee

RO. 160-180: 7,615 employees

RO. 180-200: 5,529 employees

RO. 200-300: 14,161 employees

RO. 300-400: 6,549 employees

RO. 400-500: 3,384 employees

RO. 500-600: 2,038 employees

RO. 600-700: 1,247 employees

RO. 700-800: 813 employees

RO. 800-900: 571 employees

RO. 900-1000: 519 employees

RO. 1000-2000: 1394 employees

Salary over RO. 2000 a month: only 470 employees.

To conclude: out of 131,000 Omanis in the private sector, 110,000 of them are on pay of RO. 200 a month or less. That's about 84%.

This is why I oppose Omanisation in its current form. It is a policy that forces Omanis into the lowest paying jobs for the sake of dressing up statistics. It sounds great when the Ministry of Manpower announces that 10,000 Omanis were placed in jobs in the private sector. But the truth is that 8 out of every 10 who are employed are getting paid below 200 rials a month. And that's not much of a living.