I want more because I can… strike

April 04, 2011

I want more money.  I want a guaranteed annual bonus, a promotion, a study break and money for a higher degree, and free unlimited benefits. Oh, did I say these are only for me and my pals, not for those useless senior managers, and definitely not for any expatriates.

Sounds fair?

This is what many Omantel staff are reported to have demanded from their management.  But wait, those are the managers they want to fire and limit their incomes, so why would managers listen, let alone entertain? I cannot wait to see what the senior managers have to say, but I wrote this in the defense of Oman’s corporate culture and the competitiveness of its work force.

Let me go over some of demands.  First, sack the CEO and his assistants. Well, why the assistants? We were all reminded last week in an article on the Omani law that just as workers have a right to strike, the company has a right to listen and react.  Has the CEO been informed of the grievances? Has he offered anything? Have his assistants covered up or hidden the problems? If he lacks vision, does he have enough powers to limit his assistants’ endeavours? Should the Board not see this or be given a chance to address it?

Item 2, raise salaries by 50 per cent or RO300. Why? And why not by RO500 or RO200? A certain amount of minimum wage has been enforced in the country, and has recently been adjusted upwards. Did the work load or the productivity of all the employees suddenly shift? If so, wouldn’t the senior managers work hard as well, if not plan and implement the extra work? And why introduce a racial element into a management issue? Expatriates have always been welcome in Oman, and they come here because they know Oman offers a fair environment for work. Do we really want to give a different message? That message?

Third, promote all who haven’t been promoted since 2008. I thought promotion had to be earned. The discipline of working hard and achieving new heights should permeate all aspects in our lives in school, sports, and sure enough work. Does everyone deserve a promotion? Are there enough new responsibilities for the new promoted staff? The same applies to ‘equal yearly bonuses’. 

What followed were some reasonable and in my opinion fair requests. I added my suggestions in parentheses: Opportunities for further education (for the high performers and serious workers, yes by all means, Omantel like many other large institutions has ample resources and contacts around the world to be able to afford world class training to create generations of leaders), free internet and phone time (within a limit, and as an incentive for better work), and securing the contracts of part-timers (again, if their work was satisfactory). But the first sets of demands make it really hard for the management or the board to negotiate.

I ask the workers who made the ten-item list to consider another list.  Except this one could be easily written by managers as they too decide to go on strike: We want higher salaries to compensate for the risk to our livelihood as people tend to fire us if we are unwittingly wrong. We want a bigger share of profits if our decisions yield results that exceed our targets.

We want reliable workers who spend more than ten hours a day to deliver the results that we promise. We want to decide which worker gets a promotion or a bonus because we can see performances and attitudes firsthand. We want more vacation time with our families because of the high stress level and long hours that come with responsibility, and a private club for our friends and family. 

Now imagine an uprising by shareholders who demand the creation of a contingency fund that pools profits to secure dividends should either workers or management stage a strike or make heavy demands that could jeopardise their yearly income.

Omantel is a huge and profitable corporation with many stakeholders, each having a claim on its resources (and I have not added the public’s demands yet). Who’s right is stronger than the other, who has priority?  Such a balance is cultivated by years of regulation, corporate law, and convention.

Should the balance of priorities unjustly favour one party over the other (as it may well have given the ardent nature of the Omantel workers’ demands) the whole thing will stop and damage all. It is time for policy makers, senior managers and no-nonsense business people to join and collectively recalibrate the balance.

Anees is a local businessman and writer interested in a wide variety of issues