Oman oil minister Mohammad bin Hamad Al Rumhy Image Credit: Supplied

Muscat: The ministerial committee tasked with finding a solution to the mass layoffs of Omanis in the country’s oil and gas sector amid a slump in oil prices has told companies to fire expatriates first.

The committee said that the sub-contractors and contractors should terminate expatriate workers with expired contracts or contracts whose scope has been reduced before taking any decision to reduce national manpower.

They also should appoint the national manpower in place of the expatriate workers at any other contracts won by the company while taking into consideration experience and efficiency in the replacement programme.

Moreover, they should submit a detailed list to the main contractor detailing the national manpower that could not be absorbed. The list should show the employee’s details, practical experience and academic qualifications. It should also include data on the expatriates whose services have been terminated.

Over 1,500 Omanis in the oil and gas sectors have been laid off in recent weeks by contracting companies citing loss of contracts due to the slump in oil prices. Oil and gas unions threatened to go on strike on November 18, the country’s national day, in protest against the move. While collective action by unions is legal in Oman, strikes in the oil and gas sector are forbidden by law, due to the significance of the sector to the national economy.

“The Omani government should stop the mass layoffs of Omani workers as soon as possible,” said the statement by the unions.

Saud Al Salmi, the chairman of the oil and gas trade unions, declined to comment on whether the union will go ahead with the scheduled strike, now that the government has stepped in to address the matter.

Al Salmi added that the number of laid-off Omanis in the oil and gas sector is expected to reach 2,300 before the end of 2015.

Cheap oil has slashed the government’s revenues, pushing it deep into the red; Oman posted a budget deficit of 2.68 billion riyals (Dh25.56 billion) in the first eight months of this year, swinging from a 205.7 million riyal surplus a year earlier.

Oman’s oil minister Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Rumhy voiced his country’s frustration with low oil prices in Abu Dhabi last week, saying members of the Organisation of Petrol Exporting Countries (Opec) were responsible for the crisis.

“This is a commodity that if you have one million barrels a day extra in the market, you just destroy the market,” Al Rumhy, whose country produces oil but isn’t a member of Opec, was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal. “We are hurting, we are feeling the pain and we’re taking it like a God-driven crisis. Sorry I don’t buy this, I think we’ve created it ourselves.”

In September, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al Naimi told US channel CNBC that no-one could determine oil prices “except Allah”.