Employees at Sun Island Resort and Spa have accused its management of firing a large number of staff based solely on their political affiliation and suspected support for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
Sources from the resort allege that over 30 staff members have been fired following the announcement of the results of the first round of the presidential elections, held on September 7.
Sun Island is owned by resort tycoon and Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, who contested in the first round, finishing third with 24.07 percent of the vote. Gasim subsequently submitted a case to the Supreme Court alleging fraudulent voting, which eventually resulted in the decision to annul the first round on October 7.
According to the results of the ballot box placed on Sun Island in first round, the JP received 206 votes and the MDP 60 votes. Meanwhile, the Progressive Party of Maldives got a total of eight votes while independently contesting incumbent President Dr Mohamed Waheed did not receive any votes.
Staff at Irufushi Beach and Spa resort have also recently expressed concern over a “firing spree” affecting staff members professing to support the MDP.
Yellow T-shirt leads to multiple dismissals
Eighteen year old Zamin Abdul Raheem told Minivan News of the circumstances under which he was dismissed without notice from his post at Sun Island, after almost a year of service.
“We were doing some community cleaning work in the staff area after my duty hours, and I happened to be wearing a yellow T-shirt on the day. While a supervisor and I were having a chat, the general manager (GM) walked up and angrily asked me why I was wearing a T-shirt of this colour and said very angrily and accusingly ‘finally your political views and the candidate you voted for are being revealed’,” Zamin explained.
“I replied, saying the colour of my attire reveals nothing, that I wear various colours. I said I had cast a secret vote, as is in the law, which made the GM angrier. He retorted ‘we’ll see about that’ and stormed off. By 6:00pm that day I got a call from the Human Resources Department (HR) asking me not to report to duty. Three hours later, they called again and informed me that I’d been fired, though they couldn’t specify a reason for it,” he said.
According to multiple sources at the resort, the supervisor was also fired on the same day, after management questioned him as to why he had been “standing so care-freely with a man who dared to wear yellow”.
Two other staff members claimed that they were fired for going to the jetty to see off the dismissed staff, with whom they had worked closely.
“The constitution of the Maldives clearly guarantees us the right to support any political party we prefer. I told the management too that I will not be enslaved by anyone, just because Gasim gave us a job he thinks he is entitled to have the management force us to vote for him and go to his rallies. I’ve seen what he is like. By running for presidency, he is trying to enslave the citizens of this country,” Zamin said.
“Thirty fired, thirty to go”: firing spree worries staff
Mohamed Ali, a cashier who was fired on September 27, says he received a call from HR informing him of his dismissal and ordering him to leave the resort premises on the first available transfer.
“They said it was a staff cut-down as an official reason. I asked them why then they couldn’t follow procedure, and give me due notice, to which the reply was that they ‘Didn’t know, it’s orders from the management’.”
“Another colleague was also fired at the same time, and obviously the whole team from our department got frustrated. We went together to the HR to ask questions, and this resulted in the immediate dismissal of the five others who accompanied us there to raise concerns,” Ali said.
“Although they said we’d be given air transfer as is the norm, at the last minute they tried to pile us into a small supply boat, which would take seven hours to reach Male’. We refused, and ended up having to pay our own airfares.
“We were so afraid of losing our jobs that we had to just agree with whatever political opinions the management voiced. They forced us to do political things to the point where even someone who might have initially supported Gasim would change his mind.”
“The GM himself said the 60 staff members who voted for MDP will be thrown out. They just dismiss whomever they suspect. One guy who worked on the resort’s fishing vessel was among the first dismissed as he is from Kulhudhuhfushi which had lots of support for MDP. Even the official reason they gave was ridiculous: that the guy had refused to cut his hair on time,” Ali alleged.
“The resort has previously taken action against staff who refused to re-register to vote in the resort, and those who refused to vote for Gasim.”
Ahmed Ikram, another dismissed staff member, claimed that workers were forced to sign up for JP, to register to vote in the resort, and that people who complained had action taken against them.
“I wouldn’t call it a tourist resort anymore. It’s nothing but a campaign hub,” Ikram said.
Ahmed Naushad, among the cashiers fired, claimed that between dismissal and transfer out of the resort, the management sent security guards, claiming they were to “watch over the dismissed staff as [they] might damage resort property. Naushad said it was similar to “adding salt to a wound” after they had loyally served the resort for long periods of time.
Naushad further said that they were asked by their employers to attend all JP rallies, adding that some staff had even been given some form of payment in return for attending the large rally held in capital city Male’ on August 16.
Fired for going to the jetty to see off his fired friends, Ahmed Sammahu expressed concerns about how there was no line between what was expected from a person’s job and what the management wanted them to do in the owner’s political interests.
“I’ll be frank. Politically, I support MDP. However, when at Sun Island, they forced me and others to display support to Gasim. We even have to participate in all his campaign activities, or else risk termination. I’ve done all that. And yet, they can’t digest the vote I cast.”
Political threat to the company
Ahmed Sirhan stated that he had handed in his resignation after many of his colleagues working in the same department had been terminated “unfairly and under discrimination based on political views”.
“I resigned as a termination was inevitable, and I wasn’t going to stay around and let them do as they pleased. Do you know the management’s tactics when votes near? We had awesome meals in the staff quarters for exactly three days ahead of elections. There were foods like biryani, sausages and corn flakes – things we’ve never been given in the staff kitchen before.”
“We were even treated to free coffee from the staff coffee shop during these three days. And right after voting day, the food quality went way below even what we were used to before,” said Sirhan, whose allegations were repeated by many of his colleagues.
“I’d liken the management’s actions to having patted us on the back as the vote approached, and then trying to strangle us once the votes had been cast,” Mohamed Ali said.
Another staff member who had submitted his resignation was asked to stop coming to work before the period of notice he had given was up. He was informed that unless he left immediately it would be recorded as a dismissal and not a voluntary resignation.
“When asked for a reason, the management said that there is a difference in political ideologies and that I may prove to be a threat to the company. While my monthly salary of MVR 4000 (US$259) was due, they deducted MVR 3000 (US$195) and claimed it was because I had chosen to resign instead of waiting for dismissal,” he claimed.
Trepidation in the resort
A staff member still employed at the resort – who spoke to Minivan News on condition of anonymity – shared the general feeling amongst other MDP supporting staff members remaining in the resort.
“It’s not easy to find jobs in this sector. Everyone’s scared, not sure which one of us will get fired first. There’s about 30 still left and the GM has said to various colleagues that he will fire all 60 who voted for MDP.”
“No one complains about anything, regardless of how unfair it is. For example, we aren’t even allowed to watch Raajje TV in this resort. And all these dismissals are against the Employment Act, not to mention the individual civic rights guaranteed in the constitution,” he said.
Article 4 of the Employment Act prohibits discrimination against any employee based on their political beliefs or affiliation with any political party.
Article 21(b) of the same Act states that political affiliation is not a reasonable cause for dismissal of an employee.
“No knowledge of such incidents”: HR
Minivan News was unable to get in touch with Sun Island Resort and Spa General Manager Mohamed Saeed.
The front office stated that they are not allowed to share the GM’s number or his assistant’s number, or even pass the call to his extension.
When asked if there was any other staff at the resort who could respond to media queries, the Front Desk Officer replied “I suppose it is only the GM who can respond to those queries, but we aren’t allowed to share his number or pass any calls to him”.
A Human Resources official from the resort – who declined to identify himself – refused to comment on the matter besides saying that he was unaware of politically motivated dismissals, saying he has “no knowledge of such incidents”.
JP leader and Sun Island owner Gasim Ibrahim was not responding to calls at the time of press.