Oman is heavily dependent on expatriate labor with an expatriate community of 527,078 and a total labor force of 650,000. Expatriate workers send large amounts of their wages back home, and in 1997 these earnings amounted to US$1.5 billion or 9.5 percent of GDP. Foreign labor mostly comes from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and in most cases these expatriates perform menial and physical jobs. In some cases they have managerial jobs. There are an estimated 30,000 young Omanis entering the workforce every year, and the government has realized that it can no longer provide jobs for the entire workforce. To this end, it has been pursuing a policy of "Omanization" whereby expatriate labor is slowly replaced by Omani labor. Foreigners are not allowed to work in agriculture or public relations, nor are they allowed to be Arabic typists, guards, or technical assistants unless the employer can show that no Omanis are capable of filling the position. Taxi drivers and fishermen must be Omani. In 1994 Oman joined the International Labor Organization (ILO). (This is a UN agency that seeks the promotion of social justice and human and labor rights.) As a consequence, Oman must follow international standards covering a wide range of issues in the world of work, including certain basic human rights, the abolition of forced labor, the elimination of discrimination in employment, the employment of women, and the employment of children.
Oman's labor code lays out basic workers' rights and in 1998 the minimum wage was raised by the government and set at US$260 (100 riyals) per month plus US$52 (20 riyals) for transport costs and housing costs. However, the minimum wage does not apply to all occupations such as small businesses that employ fewer than 5 people, domestic servants, dependent family members working in a family business, and some manual labor jobs. The government has been reluctant to enforce the minimum wage for foreign workers employed in menial jobs. In contrast, the foreign workers who are highly skilled and in managerial positions are often paid much more than their Omani counterparts. The working week is 5 days in the public sector and 5 and a half days in the private sector. Non-Omanis working in construction, retail , in the personal service outlets, or in the petroleum fields usually work a 7-day week.
Foreign men and women employed in manual labor or as domestic servants have made official complaints in the past about employers withholding salaries and inhumane treatment. In many cases the government has been unhelpful or undertaken investigative procedures that have been detrimental to the employee concerned, which clearly goes directly against the principles of the International Labor Organization. Employers who mistreat their foreign domestic servants are not always held accountable for their actions and several foreign women working in Oman have been forced to contact their governments' embassies to seek shelter and escape from abuse.