The government demonstrated increased efforts to prevent trafficking. It implemented its decision to remove the employer-controlled NOC to allow individuals, including domestic workers, to seek new employment without employer approval at the end of their contract, which reduced their vulnerability to forced labor; drafted and adopted the new National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking for 2021-2023; created a specialized counter-trafficking unit within MOL’s Inspection Department to improve identification of forced labor cases and increase victims’ access to protection services; and launched its second formal awareness-raising campaign.
During the reporting period, the NCCHT issued its new NAP. Under the new NAP, the government would develop a NRM, establish new shelters outside Muscat, enact a new domestic worker law, and establish a deterrent penalty for passport confiscation, among other critical activities. In December 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) hosted a forum to solicit feedback on the NAP and Oman’s efforts to combat trafficking with representatives of seven labor-sending countries, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the Philippines. The government also reported it consulted the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an international organization, and other GCC partners in drafting the NAP. The NCCHT did not hold a formal meeting during the reporting year due to the pandemic but reported that several members met frequently to discuss trafficking issues and advance counter-trafficking policies.
In March 2021, the government initiated a three-month national trafficking awareness campaign entitled Insan. The campaign, which specifically targeted workers, victims, and offenders, had seven goals, including enhancing community awareness of trafficking, enabling victims to receive protective services, and preventing trafficking crimes. The NCCHT held a campaign launch event in which prominent Omani officials, media personalities, and sports stars delivered messages calling for Omanis to treat victims of trafficking with dignity and respect. Due to pandemic-related restrictions, the government also live-streamed the event to reach a broader audience. In conjunction with the launch, the NCCHT announced a new website to increase awareness of trafficking crimes and offer resources for potential victims to receive assistance and to report potential cases; information on the website was available in 12 different languages, including English, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Tagalog. During the three-month campaign, the NCCHT reported advertising and media activities would feature artwork to convey trafficking indicators, such as passport confiscation. At various times during the reporting period, government-run media and the PPO published information and reminders to raise public awareness of trafficking; in February 2021, the PPO posted a series of tweets and wrote a press article reminding the public of Oman’s anti-trafficking laws. Additionally, the MOL conducted educational seminars for 882 companies and held 100 group meetings to raise awareness of Oman’s labor laws and labor recruitment issues during the reporting period.
The MFA continued to fund an international trafficking expert to advise and assist interagency entities in carrying out victim-centered investigations, devising legislative improvements, and enhancing information-gathering techniques. 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 newly launched NCCHT website. Officials did not report how many calls the police hotline received; however, the government did report that it identified three victims via its hotline and referred them to care. The MOL operated a labor violation hotline, which it promoted in its video on workers’ rights and responsibilities, and the MOSD operated one that served as an all-purpose helpline. All hotlines reportedly remained active year-round, 24 hours per day, and staffed with Arabic and English interpreters; Urdu, Hindi, and Bangla-speaking contractors were available. The government reported having MOUs regarding migrant workers with Iran, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and Morocco; some included articles prohibiting unlawful labor recruitment and trafficking. Oman was signatory to a Gulf Cooperation Council-wide labor agreement with the Philippines. Labor-source country embassy representatives that had labor-related agreements with the government reported they experienced good cooperation with the MOL and ROP on labor issues involving their respective nationals during the reporting period.
In the previous reporting period, the government announced its intent to eliminate the NOC that historically required employees to receive permission from their employers to seek new employment—a reform that reduced workers’ vulnerability to exploitive situations that could constitute forced labor. The government implemented this reform in January 2021; the government allowed migrant workers, including domestic workers, to change employers upon completion or termination of their employment contract without employer approval. The MOL General Directorate of Labor must approve the contract with the new employer. However, workers who fled allegedly abusive employers could not utilize the reform as their contract had not expired or been terminated, which was required to request a transfer. 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. Some potential trafficking victims who experienced passport confiscation or were subject to spurious charges filed by their employers may have been unable to leave the country freely during the reporting period; instead, they may have been detained and subsequently deported for fleeing an abusive employer or forced to remain in Oman in an exploitative situation without possession of their travel documentation.
In August 2018, the MOL issued a ministerial decision stating a company must prove it has paid the past three months of an employee’s salary before filing a complaint to charge an expatriate employee with “absconding.” The ministerial decision stipulated that, if a company filed more than five complaints in a month or more than 10 in a year, it would be subject to increased inspections to ensure it was complying with local labor laws. If the company was noncompliant with local labor laws, the MOL would suspend it. The ministerial decision also created protections to prevent employers from firing employees while on leave or otherwise absent from work. During the reporting period, the MOL increased inspections from 5,629 to more than 8,000 establishments to ensure compliance with labor law provisions, 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 22,580 labor disputes, resolved 9,057, and referred 7,602 cases to judicial authorities for adjudication; 5,921 cases remained pending at the close of the reporting period. In an effort to increase identification of potential instances of forced labor and provide victims greater access to justice and protective services, the MOL established a dedicated counter-trafficking unit within its Inspection Department in August 2020; the unit reported it monitored 312 recruiting agencies and inspected 243 agencies of the 312 during the reporting period. From these inspections, the unit reported that it referred 23 recruitment agencies 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 judicial authorities for adjudication; 59 cases remained pending at the close of the reporting period and 14 had an unknown status. The government did not report any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.