200 Oman private sector workers protest for pay rise

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 24, 2011 9:51 AM
200 Oman private sector workers protest for pay rise

By Saleh Al-Shaibany

MUSCAT (Reuters) - Around 200 private sector workers staged a sit-in around government buildings in Oman's capital Thursday, urging the Gulf Arab state's ruler to ensure a pay rise that matches an increase for state employees.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has ruled Oman for 40 years, ordered a pay rise last week for civil servants and government pensioners, in a move to calm protesters demanding better wages.

Private sector workers make up around 19 percent of workers in Oman. They say they are excluded from benefits the sultan has been using to coax Omanis off the streets, as workers at public and private companies continue to stage sit-ins and strikes over wages, including at two oil refineries last Sunday.

"What about people like us working for the private sector? The government must provide funding for the private sector to get us a raise, too," said Mohammed Al Tiwani, a protester sitting outside Muscat's ministerial buildings.

There were also protesters outside the headquarters of the Shura Council, Oman's quasi-parliamentary advisory body.

"It is not fair to look after government employees and forget the private sector," protester Hamed Marhoon said.

Wealthy Gulf Arab oil producers launched a $20 billion aid package this month for their less prosperous neighbors Oman and Bahrain -- a job-generating measure that should enable the two countries to upgrade their housing and infrastructure.

Sultan Qaboos also promised in March to cede some legislative powers to the partially elected Oman Council, which has previously only acted as an advisory body. At present, only the sultan and his cabinet can make laws. No further information has been given as to when powers would be transferred.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)