Thursday, May 12, 2011

Peaceful Strikes Under Omani Law

Although the Sultanate has avoided the degree of social unrest that has arisen elsewhere in the region, protests including employee strikes have occurred in Oman during the past few months. It is not well known that Omani law provides a framework for conducting peaceful strikes, which employers and employees alike would benefit from understanding more precisely.

This article sets out the procedures to be followed by employees to ensure that their strike is carried out lawfully and their demands are made legitimately, as well as the steps available for employers to try to resolve any disputes with their employees in cooperation with authorities in a fast and efficient manner.

The statutory basis for strikes

Ministerial Decision No. 294/2006, as amended (“MD 294/2006”), which was promulgated by the Ministry of Manpower pursuant to Article 107 (bis) of the Labor Law, regulates several aspects of employer-employee relations, including the procedures for holding peaceful strikes. MD 294/2006 states that employees may hold a peaceful strike to demand “the improvement of working conditions and circumstances”. It should be noted, however, that strikes are prohibited in establishments that provide essential public services.

The required procedure

MD 294/2006 sets out the following procedure for employees to hold a strike. First, the employees’ labor union or representatives must provide to the employer, at least three weeks prior to the planned date of the strike, written notice of the employees’ intention to hold the strike. The notice must indicate the employees’ reasons for holding the strike as well as the employees’ demands. This same notice also must be furnished to the Ministry of Manpower and to the relevant local government authorities.

Resolving the strike

MD 294/2006 provides that, upon receiving notice of the planned strike, the Ministry shall attempt to form a committee consisting of representatives of the employees, the employer and the Ministry itself, with the goal of resolving the employees’ demands and ending the dispute. The strike must cease and the employees must return to work upon the employer’s and employees’ representatives agreeing to take part in the committee and commencing negotiations. Upon commencement of the negotiations, the committee must reach an agreement within four weeks; otherwise, the dispute shall be referred to the court system.

However, MD 294/2006 is not clear on its face as to whether either party – the employer’s representatives or the employees’ representatives – is obligated to come to the table and join the committee to negotiate. For example, if the employees could ‘opt out’ of joining the committee, they might not have to end their strike and return to work. If workplace strikes continue in Oman, this likely will be an important area to watch for further clarification from the legislative or judicial system.