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Private sector may not solve Oman’s rise in unemployment

Less pay and longer working hours are not something young graduates are very keen on

Guest workers from South East Asia cleaning the beach in front of a hotel in Muscat, Oman. The sultanate's private sector often turns to expatriates to fill vacancies that nationals do not apply for, and there are fears about unemployment Alamy via Reuters
Guest workers from South East Asia cleaning the beach in front of a Muscat hotel. The sultanate's private sector often turns to expatriates to fill vacancies that nationals do not apply for

Oman may experience a sharp rise in unemployment among its citizens this year, as employers in the private sector prefer to offer jobs to expatriates to save money.

Official statistics show that the number of unemployed citizens in the first quarter of this year rose by 26 percent compared with the same quarter last year to 56,000.

Around 34,000 Omani job seekers have bachelor’s degrees, around 22,000 hold secondary school diplomas and the rest failed to complete their school education. The figures are not broken down by gender.

In 2021 Oman’s Sultan Haitham ordered a grant of 200 rials ($500) a month to the private sector for every Omani job seeker employed during the first year of employment, as an incentive for companies to take on local graduates.

But three years later, that has not made any difference. Employers in the private sector say that Omani graduates demand twice the amount expatriates accept.

So it is still attractive for the private sector to keep hiring expatriates in office jobs, retail, sales, marketing, accounts or even in technical jobs such as engineering or information technology. But young Omanis prefer cushy and highly paid jobs in the public sector, shying away from lower-paid vacancies in private companies.

The government’s biggest challenge remains that it is hard to convince its citizens to accept jobs in the private sector. The starting salary for graduates in the civil service is 900 rials ($2,500) a month. Working hours are only from 7.30am to 2.30pm and then they have the rest of the afternoon off.

Meanwhile, in the private sector, the working day typically runs from 8am to 5pm with pay of around 600 rials ($1,500) a month. Less pay and longer working hours are not something young Omani graduates are very keen on and that allows expatriates to fill the vacancies they leave.

But the civil service and government-owned organisations have fewer vacancies each year. Statistics available at the Ministry of Manpower show that fewer than 3,500 jobs were advertised in government-owned organisations in 2023 compared with about 3,300 vacancies a year earlier. In 2022 some 3,400 civil service jobs were up for grabs and all filled up by Omani graduates.

In contrast, the total job vacancies in the private sector reached about 38,000 in 2024 up from 33,000 vacancies a year before, according to the Ministry of Manpower figures. Over 80 percent of these jobs were filled up by expatriates.

Many feel that the private sector is comfortable employing expatriates because of the savings in salary payments. But the private sector is not really to blame.

Private companies do not discriminate against nationalities when candidates are interviewed. Most Omanis simply do not apply for jobs that do not match the packages offered by the civil service or government owned organisations.

In September last year the Ministry of Labour launched its latest application under the name of “Maak”, or “With You”, designed to make the private sector an attractive job destination for graduates. It has not worked so far because Omani graduates feel Maak only serves as a promotional tool for the private sector but offers nothing more.  

It is a deadlock that currently has no solution except for Omani graduates to accept lower-paid jobs in private companies despite the Ministry of Manpower’s efforts to encourage them to take opportunities outside the government jobs.

With the private sector happy to employ expatriates for jobs unwanted by Omani graduates because of lower pay and longer working hours, many feel that the deadlock will continue.

Saleh Al-Shaibany is a journalist and lecturer, and CEO of AlSafa Press & Publishing

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