Thursday, April 22, 2010

Labor Unions in Oman – Part I: Historical Development of Oman’s Labor Union Laws

On February 15, 2010, Muscat hosted the founding conference of the Sultanate’s General Labor Union, the national federation of Oman’s labor unions. The conference, attended by high-level officials from the Sultanate, international labor organizations, and Oman’s labor and business communities, marked an important milestone in the growth of labor unions in Oman.

This two-part series explores the law of Labor Unions in Oman. Part I below charts the historical development of the Omani law in this area. Part II, which will be posted next month, will discuss important features of the current Omani law governing laboring unions.

Foundations: the Labor Law of 2003
In 2003, the Sultanate of Oman enacted a comprehensive labor law by Royal Decree, which remains the basis for all labor-related laws in Oman. The Labor Law did not explicitly provide for labor unions. However, it did endorse the concept of labor organization by providing that workers could form representative committees among themselves for the “protection of their interests and for defending their legally prescribed rights, and for representing them in all matters that relate to their affairs.”

These representative committees were further permitted to form a principal committee to represent them in local, regional and international meetings.

By thus granting workers the right to organize to protect their interests, the Labor Law laid the foundation for the emergence of conventional labor unions in Oman in the years to come.

Further Developments: Aligning Omani Law with International Standards
Throughout this past decade, the Sultanate has moved to further integrate into the global economy, and in connection with this initiative has moved to bring Omani law into closer alignment with international standards.

In 2006, as part of the Free Trade Agreement that Oman entered into with the United States, the Sultanate pledged to strive to ensure that its laws provide for labor standards consistent with internationally recognized labor rights, including the right of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively.

To this end, the Sultanate issued two Royal Decrees in 2006 that strengthened the legal framework for labor unions in Oman. The Royal Decrees explicitly recognized labor unions and provided for collective bargaining and peaceful strike processes.

The 2006 Royal Decrees also called for the formation of a Sultanate’s General Labor Union to serve as a confederation of Oman’s labor unions. The founding conference of the General Labor Union held this month has made that pledge a reality, and shows the Sultanate’s commitment to labor unions as a forum to promote harmonious and productive employer-employee relations in Oman.