The Employment Tribunal has ordered Maldives Airports Company Ltd. (MACL) to pay nearly MVR1 million (US $65,000) in damages over discrimination in salaries.
The case lodged in 2012 by 40 air traffic controllers alleged MACL had failed to provide adequate training, changed the company’s policy on salaries without prior notice, and forced employees to work without leave.
The Employment Tribunal however dismissed these claims, but said MACL had allocated different salaries to employees doing the same work, contravening Article 4 of the Employment Act.
The three member tribunal ordered MACL to pay the 40 air traffic controllers MVR987,000 in damages by October 27.
Lawyer Ibrahim Riffath hailed the verdict as “historic and significant victory” and noted the case was the first class action suit of its kind in the Maldives.
He applauded the 40 staff for their bravery in raising the issues in court while continuing to work at MACL.
“The compensation claim is significant especially since MACL is a major company in charge of the country’s most important airport. This case highlights the importance of workers fighting for their rights regardless of the company they work for,” he said.
An air traffic controller who wished to remain anonymous told Minivan News that MACL had resolved several issues raised in the tribunal case, such as work without leave, after the case was lodged.
“We had to go far this far because MACL refused to acknowledge its shortcomings,” he said.
“I call on other workers to raise any issue they may have with the Employment Tribunal. Do not remain frustrated at work. Use your rights,” he said.
During the presidential elections in October 2013, over 95 percent of air traffic controllers called in sick en masse over pay grievances, safety concerns at the airport and the Supreme Court’s delay of the presidential run-off election.
Several flights were delayed and MACL had to call in officers from Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) to operate the air traffic control tower.
They had demanded the reinstatement of a professional grading system, adherence to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and the holding of the presidential run-off election which had been suspended by the Supreme Court.
“This was not a political issue,” an air traffic controller said at the time. “But now because we’ve lost trust in and cannot negotiate with the current government, [the strike has taken a political direction].”
In March, hundreds of MACL employees went on a four hour strike over the poor quality of food and cuts to annual company bonuses.