The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The NCCHT was composed of members from the MFA, PPO, ROP, Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, MOH, Ministry of Education, MOSD, MOL, Ministry of Information, Council of Administrative Affairs for the Judiciary, Oman Human Rights Commission, Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the General Federation of Oman Workers. In the previous reporting period, the committee adopted a NAP to Combat Trafficking for 2021- 2023. In 2021, the committee actively worked to achieve the NAP’s goals, which included developing the NRM, among other activities. The NCCHT did not hold a formal meeting during the reporting year due to the pandemic but reported that several members met frequently to advance counter-trafficking policies, per the NAP.
In January 2021, the government’s decision to eliminate the NOC—that previously required employees to receive permission from their employers to seek new employment—entered into force. With the elimination of the NOC, the government allowed migrant workers, including domestic workers, to change employers upon completion or termination of their employment contract without employer approval. However, workers who fled allegedly abusive employers could not utilize the reform if their contract had not expired or been terminated. Additionally, the MOL General Directorate of Labor had to approve the contract with the new employer, at times delaying transfer. Anecdotal reporting suggested low awareness of this reform from migrant workers, as many workers attempted to change employers prior to the completion or termination of their employment contract; in those instances, employers could prohibit employees from leaving until their contract ended. Per Labor Law No. 35 of 2003, migrant workers could terminate a contract after providing a 30-day notice to their employer, and domestic workers could also terminate a contract with a 30-day notice period; however, domestic workers could also terminate their contract without notice in the case of abuse by the employer or a member of the employer’s family, per the 2004 decision regulating domestic workers. The government reported 82,211 workers were approved to transfer jobs in 2021 without employer permission. The government reported expatriate workers could depart the country without permission at any time, but a worker’s ability to do so was contingent on physically possessing a passport, having sufficient travel funds to return home, and not facing any charges, including “absconding” charges. An international organization noted that although the government allowed workers to terminate their employment and change employers without a previous employer’s permission, the sponsorship system would continue to persist as long as both the employee’s work and residence visas were tied to an employer. MOL circular No. 2/2006 prohibited employers from withholding migrant workers’ passports but did not specify penalties for noncompliance. MOL reported investigating 17 total passport retention complaints in 2020, compared with 82 cases the year prior; 15 complaints were resolved, and two remained under investigation by the ROP at the close of the reporting period, although the government did not report whether any of the cases were considered potential trafficking crimes.
A 2018 MOL ministerial decision stated a company must prove it has paid the past three months of an employee’s salary before filing a complaint to charge a migrant worker with “absconding.” Additionally, if a company filed more than five complaints in a month or more than 10 in a year, MOL would increase inspections to ensure the company complied with labor laws. If the company was not compliant, MOL would suspend its ability to operate, including the ability to receive services from MOL, for one year. The ministerial decision also created protections to prevent employers from firing employees while on leave or otherwise absent from work. During the reporting period, MOL increased inspections from 5,629 to more than 8,000 establishments to screen for trafficking indicators and build awareness against forced labor and exploitative practices among the migrant workforce. However, it did not report whether it referred any findings to the courts for administrative or criminal proceedings or referred any potential trafficking victims to care. The MOL also investigated 24,220 labor disputes, resolved 12,175, and referred 7,794 cases to authorities for adjudication; 4,251 cases remained pending at the close of the reporting period. In 2020, MOL established a dedicated counter-trafficking unit within its Inspection Department; during the reporting period, the unit conducted 880 workplace and recruitment agency inspections, and out of these inspections, officials referred four potential trafficking cases to the PPO for further investigation. Additionally, the unit received 274 complaints against recruitment agencies during the reporting year. Of the 274 complaints, it reached settlements in 85 cases and referred 116 to authorities for adjudication; 59 cases remained pending at the close of the reporting period, and 14 had an unknown status.
The labor law did not adequately include domestic workers, and the 2004 Ministerial Decision regulating their employment did not provide effective rights protections or adequate complaint mechanisms for this population. This decision established broad regulations related to monthly wages; adequate room, board, and medical care; return airfare when the employer terminates the contract; and airfare to and from the worker’s home country during approved vacation days. However, the decision did not provide standards on working hours, weekly rest days, annual vacation, overtime compensation, and penalties for employers who breach provisions. The government’s 2011 standard employment contract for domestic workers included provisions from the 2004 decision, and required one weekly rest day, 30 days of leave, and return flights every two years, but it had no limit on working hours or provisions for overtime pay. Some domestic workers experienced non-payment of wages, excessive work hours, passport confiscation, and physical and sexual abuse during the reporting period. In 2021, the government reported it drafted a new labor law, which reportedly included additional protections for domestic workers and victims of trafficking; the new law remained under review at the close of the reporting period.
The ROP maintained the government’s central trafficking hotline and displayed its phone number on social media posts, news articles pertaining to trafficking, and the NCCHT website. The NCCHT also was able to receive notifications through its website, which provided communications in 14 languages. Separately, MOL operated a labor violation hotline, which it promoted in its video on workers’ rights and responsibilities, and the MOSD operated an all-purpose helpline that also assisted potential victims in accessing the government shelter. All hotlines reportedly remained active year-round, 24 hours per day, and staffed with Arabic and English interpreters; Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali- speaking contractors were available. For the first time, officials reported the number of hotline calls received; ROP’s hotline received 62 calls, MOL’s hotline and website received approximately 1,200 inquiries, and the NCCHT website received 32 notifications during the reporting year. At the end of the last reporting period, the government initiated a three- month national trafficking awareness campaign entitled Insan (human being), that ended in May 2021. The campaign, which specifically targeted workers, victims, and offenders, educated the general community on trafficking, outlined protective services, and provided information about prevention. During the three-month campaign, the NCCHT reported advertising and media activities featured artwork to convey trafficking indicators, such as passport confiscation. Online, print, and broadcast media advertisements also featured media personalities, Omani officials, and sports stars to call attention to trafficking indicators. In addition, the NCCHT coordinated with telecommunications companies to send awareness materials through SMS messages to the public and launched a new social media account to raise awareness, available in both Arabic and English. The government reported having bilateral labor MOUs regarding migrant workers with Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, Sri Lanka, Syria, and Vietnam; some included articles prohibiting unlawful labor recruitment and trafficking. Oman was signatory to a Gulf Cooperation Council- wide labor agreement with the Philippines. Representatives of labor- source country embassies that had labor-related agreements with the government reported they experienced good cooperation with MOL and ROP on labor issues involving their respective nationals. In November 2021, the NCCHT held a meeting with the ROP and representatives of major labor-source country embassies, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Thailand, to discuss human trafficking trends in the country and explore potential bilateral agreements. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government provided anti- trafficking training to diplomatic personnel.