Faced with job losses, bank loans needing repayment & a need to be repatriated, Indians are stuck between a rock and a hard place
Hundreds of Indians who were forced to resign are stuck in the Arab Gulf countries as they do not see any option to clear bank loans taken there.
Without clearing these loans, banks will not provide a ‘no objection certificate’ and without that, companies are refusing to release the passport of Indian workers.
Suresh Sadasivan, an Indian worker in an automobile company in Oman, who has been forced to resign, has requested the bank and company officials to relieve him. But all his attempts have so far gone in vain.
"I had one more year of service. I would have cleared the loan. But citing the COVID-19 crisis, the company has forced 1350 employees, including me to resign. Hundreds like me have loans. We all are stuck here," Suresh said.
"I have got a call from my office telling me that I am listed to fly out in a chartered flight arranged by the company on Sunday. But I have not got my passport. I will go to the airport. I don't know whether I can fly out or not," he added.
An employer in Oman has no right to retain an employee’s passport, as it is banned by a ministerial decree.
According to the ministerial decision 2/2006 issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) dated 06 November 2006, it is against the interest of fair labour.
However, in Oman, which follows the Kafala system, the majority of the companies retain employees’ passports.
Under the Kafala system, a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor (kafeel) for their contract period.
The migrant worker cannot enter the country, transfer employment nor leave the country for any reason without ﬁrst obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel.
Meanwhile, an official in the same automobile company told The Lede that there are hundreds like Suresh.
"As nobody has cash in hand, it is difficult to get a personal loan too," the official who has also resigned, told The Lede.
“Some of the workers who are staying in Oman with family also have been forced to stay back and find a way to clear their loans. Families staying back is a big challenge at this time,” the official added.
In the automobile company, workers were told to resign with a short notice period. Most of them were given less than 24 hours to sign the papers. However, the workers are being repatriated in chartered flights organised by the company. Many workers who returned to India did not get the full end of service benefits either.
Suresh is working with a larger company but many others working with small companies face worse situations.
Majeed Mohammed, a supervisor in a small construction company with around 100 workers, is also stuck with loan issues.
“The company will provide the passport. But without clearing the loan, I won’t be able to fly out. I may be stopped at airport immigration. And if caught, the charges will be that I am fleeing the country without paying the loans. That would complicate the situation,” he added.
Majeed has also not been paid by his company for the past three months.
“Already three months’ pay was not cleared in 2019. Additionally, now, March, April, and May have not been paid. We are told that we can leave. The company will give the passport. But how can we leave without clearing the loan?” Majeed asked.
There are 83,000 COVID-19 positive cases with 83 deaths in Oman.
According to the World Bank, Oman’s economy is expected to contract in 2020 due to the oil price slide and the COVID-19 public health response.
“Fiscal and external deficits will remain under strain due to low oil and gas prices. Real GDP growth is estimated to have decelerated to 0.5% in 2019, down from a recovery of 1.8% in 2018,” the report adds.
“With oil prices in the mid-$30s in 2020 and constrained oil demand, growth is expected to contract by 3.5%. Forty-five percent of Omani exports (or 21.7% of GDP), mostly oil, go to China, the highest Chinese exposure among GCC,” the report added.
Oman's finance ministry had told state companies in April to replace foreign workers with locals, as part of efforts to develop the national workforce, state-owned Oman News Agency reported.
The move is part of the government's so-called "Omanisation" policy, which is aimed at improving the number and quality of jobs available for Omani citizens.
Meanwhile, Lateefh Thechy, a social worker in Saudi Arabia, told The Lede that workers getting stuck due to bank loans is not a phenomenon only in Oman, but also in Saudi Arabia too.
“I am getting at least five such cases daily. Only government intervention can resolve such issues. If the government tells banks to waive off loans of workers considering the COVID-19 situation or find some other mechanism to resolve the issue, then it would be a blessing for the workers,” Lateefh added.