The temporary closure of the Kurumba Maldives resort following three days of strike action by staff has had a roll-on impact on local tour operators and travel agents, according to a statement from the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO).
Most staff at Kurumba had returned to work yesterday following an ultimatum by resort management and the arrest of 19 staff on charges of intimidation and vandalism. The strikers were complaining of management inaction over poor staff accommodation, food, unfair distribution of service charges and staff discrimination.
MATATO warned disruptive strike incidents “could potentially discredit tourism in the Maldives”, and that it was not inconceivable that the Maldives tourism industry “could fade away as happened in Bali [following the 2005 bombings].”
“Such disputes should be solved through discussions, in a way that does not affect the guests,” the MATATO statement said, adding that disruption compounded an already “low time for tourism”.
“There should be no ground for any party to reduce visitors and businesses in this country to a state of fear and terror, whoever may be at fault.
MATATO’s concern echoes that of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), which on Monday stated that “there should be no grounds for any party to reduce visitors and businesses in this country to a state of fear and terror, whoever may be at fault.”
MATATO also said it was “very concerned” that the President of the Tourism Employment Association (TEAM), Maldivian Democratic Party MP Ahmed Easa, “worked to heat up the situation instead of trying to cool it down.”
“As the president of TEAM is an MP and a political figure, it would help solve the issue if he chose either to be the president of TEAM, or an MP,” MATATO said.
Easa acknowledged concern about the politicisation of his position.
“I believe I should not be the President of TEAM,” he said. “But if I left, who would replace me? In this country there are very few people with the courage to fight for labour rights.”
“My phone is always ringing from resort employees, and we have 100 cases ongoing in courts ranging from the labour tribunal to the Supreme Court. I am spending $2000 a month on TEAM and working 20 hours a day, because many resort workers are not paid enough to save up for things like lawyers.”
Speaking to Minivan News, Easa said he was unhappy with the way the police and government handled the Kurumba strike, claiming that arresting the strikers was “against human rights, labour laws and the constitution of the Maldives.”
“Employees have the right to strike – all international laws allow it – and police have no right to arrest them,” Easa said.
19 striking staff were removed from the island after police received reports of management intimidation and vandalism.
“I’ve monitored more that 22 strikes in the resort industry and my experience is that in every strike, the hotel tries to get police to interfere by making [the strikers] angry so they break the law,” Easa claimed.
“I have seen all these tricks. The police actually advise management to do this and push [the strikers] to make mistakes.”
He rejected claims by the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) and MATATO that strikes by resort staff would discredit tourism in the Maldives, arguing that poor treatment of workers was already damaging the industry’s image.
“Most tourists to this country come from the EU where labour rights are very much protected,” he said. “I have spent 15 years in the hotel industry, and I am very confident that tourists from the EU do not want to spend a single hour in a hotel that does not provide labour rights to its employees, pay their salaries properly or distribute service charges fairly, and accommodates them in a zoo with 10-15 people to a room.”
Tourists, he urged, should “take more of an interest in how resorts treat their staff.”
Universal Resorts’ board member on MATI, Visha Mahir, said she would not comment on the issues raised by the strike until the release of a formal statement by the group tomorrow.