Oman Air employees strike for higher wages

Strikers threaten that if their demands are not met, fights may be cancelled, as protests continue around the country.

MUSCAT // About 200 workers for the state-owned Oman Air went on strike yesterday demanding higher pay, one week after deadly clashes over jobs and wages in the north of the country.

An employee for Oman Air's human resources division, who refused to be named, said that the strike did not affect flights but only ground services staff. Some of the striking workers called in sick, while others refused to work after reporting to their offices.

The employee said: "We put our demands to the CEO today asking to increase our pay. He said he needed 48 hours to consider. We told him that if there are no positive signs by tomorrow [Monday] then even flights will be grounded."

The national carrier operates more than 300 flights a week to about 40 destinations in more than 20 countries. About 100 protesters later gathered in front of the airline's headquarters in a show of support for the striking workers.

Juma al Ismaili, one of the demonstrators, said: "We are in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of Oman Air in their time of need. Our message to all is that we are all in this together, and we will support all the oppressed people, wherever they are."

Oman Air is the first company to strike since the protests started more than a week earlier in Sohar. Medical sources said six people were killed and at least 20 were wounded in the north-eastern industrial city.

Oman's health minister said only one person died. Government buildings and a Lulu hypermarket were set alight, and the entrances to Sohar's factories, some of the country's largest, were blocked. The demonstrations later spread to the capital, Muscat, the eastern coastal town of Sur, the southern city of Salalah and the Omani-UAE border town of Al Buraimi.

Under pressure, Sultan Qaboos, Oman's ruler, pledged to create 50,000 new government jobs and to distribute 150 rials (Dh1,450) a month to unemployed workers. He also created a consumer protection agency to control inflation and withdrew the ministry of interior's control over the prosecutor general's office.

When protests persisted, the Sultan on Saturday fired two key cabinet ministers widely viewed here as corrupt. While the moves were welcomed by protesters, many say they do not go far enough.

Zakaria al Mharmi, a prominent activist in Muscat, said: "We want constitutional change, an elected cabinet and end of corruption. We are hopeful that more reforms are under way."

Others protesters said they wanted government ministers appointed from the elected Shura Council members. "We don't trust the current ministers, who are the root of corruption in our country," Fareed al Kharasy said.

Fadhila al Wahaibi, a protester encamped outside the headquarters of the Shura Council, said: "The Diwan of royal court and the palace office ministers are most corrupted. Their sacking is most welcomed, but we want to see all of them go."