Many passengers and students were left stranded in different parts of the capital area due to a flash strike by Oman National Transport Company (ONTC) employees on Saturday morning. With the talks with H E Ahmed al Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications, failing on Saturday afternoon, the protesters have decided to continue with their strike.
More than 200 drivers, mechanics and other employees of the state-owned transport company had gathered before the ONTC head office in Azaiba, seeking a hike in payment, promotions, doubling of overtime payments, an increase in meal allowances and changing the board and management.
“I have worked with ONTC for more than 29 years. My salary is RO259. Till now, I have not got any promotion,” said Hilal al Rawahi, an inspector at the Ruwi depot of the company.
“Our daily meal allowance is a mere 800bz, which is not enough for three meals a day. Besides the eight-hour duty, we work nine hours as overtime duty routinely. We are seeking a hike in meal allowance and increase in overtime payment,” said Saif al Abri of the Ruwi depot.
“We are drivers and helpers at the same time. We have to distribute tickets and also get clearance for passengers at the borders. It would be nice if we are given an assistant. Besides, some of the fleet buses are not even road-worthy. About 90 buses are more than 15 years old. We have told the management to replace them, but in vain,” said Ahmed al Ruqeishi, a driver at the Azaiba office.
The protesters had staged a rally at the Ruwi bus depot at around 9am before going to the head office. Ali Abdullah, one of the representatives of the striking employees, told Muscat Daily, “We have decided to continue with the strike. We are not happy with the ministry's decision to buy more time to solve our issues.
The talks also failed to address some of our demands like telephone and transport allowance. We are seeking a uniform transport allowance for all our staff.” ONTC operates three daily services to Salalah, two services to Dubai, two trips to Buraimi, one to Murmul, one service each to Ibri and Sur, 16 services to Wadi Kabir and Wadi Adai and several other trips to different parts of the capital region.
It also provides transportation to the Sultan Qaboos University and The Sultan’s School. Students at The Sultan’s School were caught unaware by the strike. ONTC operates about 13 buses for the school and transports about 15 per cent of the students everyday. “We received a call and were told that the buses will not be plying today. Many of the students made their way to the school on their own,” said Zakaria al Khusaibi, transport in charge, The Sultan’s School.