Regularise work timings

October 15, 2012

For several years now the timing of Ramadan has meant that both of the Eid holidays, plus the National Day celebrations, are held in the period after the long summer slowdown and before the Gregorian calendar year-end.

I was talking to some Omani businessmen last week, who are experiencing a major challenge in keeping momentum in their operations, and trying to offer adequate service levels, with so much uncertainty with the as yet unknown dates and length of public and religious holidays.

I remember when I first came here, new to the Middle East, I couldn’t understand the fact that public holidays were not known well in advance. I appreciate the importance of the religious days and the significance of the moon, but in modern times, science can tell us to the millisecond when each of the cycles of our moon will occur.

In all likelihood, the moon spotter is sitting there with a Wi-Fi service, ready to send the message to his boss, “Moon just spotted, the holiday can begin, sent from my iPad.”

I believe it is time to regularise public holiday dates, announce them well in advance and to ensure that all workers, in all sectors, are given the same. Small businesses, tourism and hospitality trades, schools and hospitals, find it difficult to manage uncertainty. I cannot see that anyone benefits from the current way the dates are announced.

The fact that Oman does not have a standard working week is also most unusual. And even more than that, the working day is still not standard, with many businesses still choosing to close for extended lunch periods.

The consequence of all of this is that the only guarantee that someone is at work is during the mornings of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. This is not an efficient way to organise the business environment here in Oman.

My vote is for us to become more productive by deciding on a standard working week, which businesses can then add to by employing more personnel to cover the extra hours. This would be done if a justifiable business case exists.

One other factor to take into account is the periodical creation of new jobs in the public sector. Of course, new opportunities are to be welcomed to provide employment for the talent leaving universities and schools here. Let us hope that the 38,000 new jobs announced in the public sector a short while ago will help productivity and pro-active government.

My Omani friends also told me that one consequence of this initiative is that some of their staff, now employed in the private sector, are choosing to 'swap sides' on the basis of perceived better job security, benefits and pensions.

This is making it difficult for established private sector companies to keep going, let alone expand. I also suspect that it is severely impacting the number of small businesses starting up - if these new organisations can’t find Omanis to employ, how can they get going?

There are some solutions to this. Careers in the public sector should still be created to add to the quality of services offered by the state. But government needs to act as a real catalyst for private business: with long-term grants, loans and subsidies to allow meaningful productive employment opportunities to be created. This is one way that the economy can grow, driven by Omanis, for the good of our nation.