The government demonstrated increased efforts to prevent trafficking, including by beginning rescission of the employer-controlled NOC to allow individuals to seek new employment and reduce their vulnerability to forced labor—a notable first step to reform its problematic sponsorship system. During the reporting period, the Council of Ministers approved a supplement to Oman’s 2018-2020 national action plan that added significant action items for each governmental stakeholder, such as the operationalization of the referral mechanism, establishment of new shelters outside Muscat, and enactment of a new domestic worker law, among other critical tenets. The National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) met regularly during the year to recommend modifications to and fortify the efficacy of this plan. In partnership with an international organization, the NCCHT funded, organized, and conducted a three-day symposium for government officials, civil society stakeholders, and members of the diplomatic community on various trafficking topics highlighted in Oman’s expanded national action plan, reaching more than 100 participants on the frontlines of anti-trafficking work. The NCCHT reported that, in the past year, the MoM held 23 seminars to raise awareness of labor law considerations such as passport retention, contractual integrity, direct deposit of wages, and overtime compensation. More than 3,000 human resources managers attended these seminars. Officials published 18 articles in the local press to raise public awareness about trafficking, and produced a periodical that included a section dedicated to trafficking during the year. Subject-matter experts from key government entities were generally active in the press, on the radio and television, and during Friday prayers at mosques to generate awareness of the crime to diverse target audiences. The NCCHT was reportedly in the process of expanding its national awareness campaign, entitled Ehsan, to include a social media presence, and collaborated with the Ministry of Information to promulgate it across the Sultanate.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (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 police maintained the government’s central trafficking hotline and displayed its phone number on social media posts and news articles pertaining to trafficking. Officials did not report how many calls the police hotline received or if any resulted in trafficking investigations. The MoM had 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 were staffed with Arabic and English interpreters; Urdu, Hindi, and Bangla-speaking contractors were on call. 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. The government also began introductory discussions with India to implement an MOU to combat trafficking and share trafficking-related information.
In February 2020, the government declared its intent to migrate fully from a sponsorship (kafala) system to a contract-based employment system and eliminate the NOC permission that historically employees required to seek new employment. During the reporting period, the Council of Ministers instructed relevant ministries to implement these reforms. Additionally, the MFA instituted a specialized human trafficking unit to coordinate entities with trafficking responsibilities or a related nexus, and serve as a focal point and liaison for all communiques and advisories. During the previous reporting period, the MoM 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 files more than five complaints in a month or more than 10 in a year, it will be subject to increased inspections to ensure it is complying with local labor laws. If the company is noncompliant with local labor laws, the MoM will 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, authorities increased inspections from 3,593 to 5,629 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; from these efforts, it did not report referring any cases to the courts for administrative or criminal proceedings or referring any victims to care. The MoM also investigated 3,855 labor disputes and resolved 13,047 (including disputes initiated in previous years). The government did not report any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.