Since the Employment Act was ratified in 2008, the issue of labour rights has been much-debated in the Maldives.
A series of strikes at the end of last year brought to the surface the many cracks in the legislation and highlighted the failure of many employers to implement the rights enshrined in the Act.
In a historic move, the government decided to seek membership of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to ensure labour rights are upheld.
Tine Staermose, director of the Sri Lankan branch of the ILO, talks to Maryam Omidi about the future of employment rights in the Maldives.
How would you describe the current situation with regards to labour rights in the Maldives?
My feeling over the last three years is that concerned and relevant parties in both the past and current governments are very committed to come aboard the ILO. With the new constitution fundamental labour rights are enshrined.
What are missing are the institutions. We need to ensure the labour tribunal is equipped as soon as possible and the ILO needs to assist the country in creating trade unions.
The government is in full support of building up civil society and trade unions. But thereâ€™s no knowledge of how they function. Thereâ€™s no law.
How will the ILO help?
What the ILO will do is send experts down as a matter of urgency. The experts will lay down the structure for a tripartite labour governance where workers and employers come together with the government.
In the ILO, strikes are the last resort. What is really important is social dialogue; a space or a platform which is ruled by certain regulations. The rules of the game have to be put in place.
Just becoming a member of the ILO is not the same as getting the rules and regulations, and our experts will help with this.
Whatâ€™s extremely important is that the consultation includes all the relevant parties and itâ€™s open, transparent and facilitated so that thereâ€™s genuine dialogue. We need to remove misperceptions about what others think or want.
The country needs to be assisted in fulfilling its economic potential. Having jobs in the ILO framework is not enough. We are talking about having decent jobs.
There are four pillars in the ILO: there are fundamental workers’ rights, social protection and employment promotion, and these are glued together with social dialogue.
The real issues at stake are, for example, working conditions, wages, working hours, occupational safety and health. All these things need to be legislated for and right now, theyâ€™re not.
We need to carry out a gaps analysis to find out what legislation is missing.
We also need to train the labour tribunal and provide guidance to the judiciary.
How will the ILO resolve complaints?
Itâ€™s a very efficient system where both employers and employees can file a complaint with the ILO.
And if the government fails to enforce the labour law, they will have to answer to an ILO board. We donâ€™t have any sanction areas, we only have moral pressure, but I can tell you itâ€™s very strong.
How will this affect the tourism industry?
We will work with resort owners. It may be that profit will shrink in the first period but over time, employers will realise the benefits of having a satisfied workforce.
One of the things we need to know more about is the capabilities of the workers.
Maybe the government will need to improve the competence of its own workforce so that it can compete for better jobs in the resorts.
How will this affect expatriate workers?
Migrant workers will have the same rights as locals but we canâ€™t address them without putting the legislation in place first.
When will the first phase begin?
I have put a lot of urgency on this because the opportunity is here and there are expectations.
If it goes slowly, the expectations will sour and so I think itâ€™s important to act pretty fast.
How long will the process take?
It will be a matter of time before we see good practices. But we have to be content that thereâ€™s a very committed president.
It doesnâ€™t take a million dollars, just technical experts and time