09 November 2016
By Rejimon K, Chief Reporter
Muscat: “Ethical” health cover should be provided to all private sector workers by 2018, the country’s chamber of commerce has told employers.
A plan to ensure health cover across the private sector has been launched by the government body, the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
In a notice issued on Tuesday, the OCCI urged firms to act according to the plan and provide health insurance coverage for all workers. Trade union bosses welcomed the news, and said that they had already held talks with the government to include health cover in new labour laws proposals, expected to be announced on November 20.
In recent months, companies have been ditching their employee health cover benefits and this has led to the “ethical” issue of some workers not able to afford treatment, according to an OCCI spokesman.
“Business should be informed about this and consider it when studying their future projects,” the OCCI notice stated.
The plan is expected to be implemented over a number of phases and the chamber of commerce hopes it can be rolled out by early 2018.
The first phase will involve consultation with companies that have more than 100 employees to ensure cover for all staff. This phase is expected to start in early 2018, according to the OCCI.
According to the plan, the second phase will include companies which have between 50 and 100 employees.
“Big companies are already doing it. However, some small companies are skipping to provide the insurance coverage for workers,” Ahmed Al Hooti, the OCCI member, said. The OCCI member added that they will be urging companies to implement health insurance schemes for their employees as it an “ethical” move.
He said: “Well-known big private companies in Oman make sure they provide their employees with health insurance but some are not committed to it so we need to instruct them to do so. It is an ethical move,” he said.
The OCCI member added that during such tough economic times, some companies pull out of providing some employee benefits like health insurance, reduce the salary or sack the employee.
“They’d rather remove the insurance,” he said, explaining that expatriates will be mostly affected by such decisions as Omanis still have the option to visit the free public health care centres.
Recently, medics and insurers confirmed that private sector companies are excluding chronic and common medical conditions from health insurance plans due to austerity measures.
According to government data, in the private sector, there are 215,109 Omanis working, while the number of expatriates is 1,764,059, as of the end of September 2016.
The OCCI’s statistics report shows that there are 75 consulting offices, 374 International companies and 1,887 Excellent level companies registered with the chamber.
Philip K Philip, group CEO of Muscat Insurance Company and Muscat Life Assurance Company, said: “Companies should do this voluntarily. Insurance firms have products suited for small companies and big companies,” he added.
Shameer PTK, an Indian social worker, said: “On an average, we come across at least five cases of workers stranded in hospital every week only because they don’t have health insurance coverage,” Shameer said.
“We say that every worker should be provided health insurance coverage.”
Currently, Shameer is looking for charity to foot the bills of a worker who is stranded in hospital without insurance coverage.
“The bill is worth more than OMR2,000. His sponsor is not responding. Hospital has told us that he can be discharged. Now, we have to look for money. He was admitted to hospital following a cardiac arrest,” Shameer added.
A trade union leader in Oman said that health care for all workers in the private sector has to be made mandatory.
“Earlier, the same issue was discussed in the meetings convened for drafting the new labour law. I am hopeful that it will be included in the new labour law,” the trade union leader added.
One group of employees said their company has set aside only OMR25 each year, for two years, to cover a worker’s health needs.
“If we fall ill and the bills at the hospital go above OMR50, then the extra sum will be deducted from our salary,” one worker said.
There are around 500 workers in the company and the scheme is the same for all staff.
“Recently, one of the workers was suffering from allergic problems. He had to visit the hospital. The bills crossed OMR25. The extra OMR13.770 was deducted from his salary. His salary is only OMR70 after cuts,” the workers added.
“We always pray that we do not fall ill,” one worker added.
Article 33 of Oman Labour Law states that the employer must provide his employees with access to medical facilities in the establishment and he shall, if the number of his employees in one place or one country exceeds one hundred, employ a qualified nurse for providing medical aid and shall assign a doctor to visit and treat them in the place prepared by him for such purpose.