Politics in paradise: Irufushi resort staff complain of political “firing spree”

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

Staff at Irufushi Beach and Spa resort have expressed concern over a “firing spree” affecting staff members professing to support the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The resort, which in May 2013 abruptly terminated its agreement with hotel giant Hilton leading to the overnight resignation of 30 employees, is owned by Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam. MDA is the coalition partner of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), and is backing its candidate Abdulla Yameen in the presidential run-off.

According to staff at the resort, the management has been on a “firing spree” since the conclusion of the first round of elections, while some others have been suspended or warned of dismissal.

Minivan News obtained copies of three letters of termination, one dated September 19 and two dated September 26, instructing staff that their employment was “terminated with immediate effect”, and ordering them to collect their belongings and leave the island the same day. The letters did not give reason for the terminations.

Mohamed Rishwan, one of the first staff members who was fired from Irufushi, spoke to Minivan News about the “unfair circumstances surrounding [his] unexpected dismissal”.

Rishwan, who worked in the resort’s housekeeping department, was dismissed on September 26 and alleged the only response from the Human Resource Department to his request for a reason was “I don’t know. These were orders from the top management. Why do you need to support [MDP presidential candidate] Mohamed Nasheed?”.

“Our work and politics have been absolutely entangled by the current management. Staff at the resort are living in a constant state of fear of losing their jobs, despite performing at their best. The rumour is the HR Department plans to dismiss many others there who support MDP. Pressure increased after Nasheed won the majority of votes even on Irufushi in the first round,” Rishwan said.

According to results from Irufushi’s ballot box in the first round of voting on September 7,  59 staff on the resort voted for the MDP, 38 for the PPM, six for the JP and one for incumbent President Mohamed Waheed.

“When I demanded to meet the HR head after I was suddenly and unexpectedly dismissed, Shiyam’s brother met with us. He said there was no reason except that the resort no longer wanted us there. He then spent the rest of the meeting asking us why we supported Nasheed, promoting Yameen and his policies and trying to dissuade us from supporting MDP,” Rishwan continued.

“I told him I no longer wanted to live in fear, under such extreme political pressure, being discriminated against for political reasons. We were even harassed in the staff quarters by supporters of the opposite political ideology. The staff of Irufushi have been stripped of many constitutional rights and live under the repression of this new politicised management.

The Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) on Thursday committed its 5000 members to “prolonged” strike action should the election be delayed.

“The management have ordered all staff to register at the resort for voting. They’ve also said at staff briefings that all staff must vote for Yameen, and that no one should dare try implementing the workers’ strike that Nasheed spoke of,” Rishwan alleged.

“One colleague refused to register to vote at the resort, saying he will finish his duty and go to his nearby home island to vote citing that it was his constitutional right to do so. He was immediately fired. Some of my former colleagues are now saying that they will not dare cast a vote at all,” he said.

Another source, currently working at Irufushi, spoke on condition of anonymity of what he described as a repressive atmosphere among resort staff.

“Things are very difficult. I need to hold this job, so don’t name me. Shiyam is firing anyone he even suspects of supporting the MDP. Most of us are under what I would say is psychological trauma right now, afraid to speak our minds as there is so much pressure from above. We can’t all afford to lose our jobs, but is political affiliation any reason to be legally dismissed from a job?”

“MDA is forcing staff to sign up for their party, that’s the only path to job guarantee or promotion these days. They are also hiring groups of youth who live on this island but do nothing besides preparing campaign banners for the MDA coalition. I’ve been working here for many years, but I feel like a stranger here now with so many new, hostile faces. The sudden lack of usual liberties is very disheartening,” he said.

“There’s been at least five dismissals in the last week, and no one knows who is next. You see, this is our livelihood, how we support families. This is why everyone is bowing down to this repression, even if reluctantly, and attempting to hold our jobs.”

“Sun Shiyam has addressed all staff in extremely disrespectful, and even vulgar, terms. Let me quote what he said at a staff briefing: ‘You MDP lot are making ‘haram’ use of my money as your wages. You are not entitled to any of it. I will make sure I push out every single one of you MDP dogs from my resort. Mark my words.’ You see, this is the reason the staff are in fear. We need to let word out and let the world know,” another staff member told Minivan News.

“The management holds nightly staff gatherings where they slander Nasheed and praise Yameen. Staff are made to agree with all they say, or face dismissal within two days. They have said that they want 100 percent votes for Yameen from Irufushi in the second round, and that it is mandatory for all staff members to register to vote on Irufushi itself.”

“In fact, we’ve been told that if Yameen doesn’t win 100 percent, they will see what percentage Nasheed gets, and fire an equal percentage of staff based on who they suspect might have cast those votes. Most of us are now saying we will just cast invalid votes, or just not vote at all,” he said.

“Shiyam took over this resort in what the staff refers to as another coup d’etat at the resort level. Since then we have been gradually stripped of rights we are legally entitled to as citizens of the Maldives.”

Resort response

General Manager of Irufushi Beach and Spa Resort, Abdulla Thamheed, rejected allegations that the resort had fired staff members for politically-motivated reasons.

He said that after Sun Travel and Tours took over the site following the company’s decision to terminate its agreement with Hilton in May, a number of staff members had been fired for “not sharing the resort’s values”.

“These people were not on the same page with the company, so we have gone our separate ways,” he said.

Thamheed said the resort had not been affected by calls for strike action by tourism workers over the indefinite suspension of the run-off election.

He also questioned the motivation of any Maldivian seeking to damage the country’s luxury tourism industry, stating that most staff members had families they needed to support.

“No one is interested in striking [on the resort],” he said.

Before answering questions on the allegations of politically-motivated sackings at the resort, Thamheed requested he be quoted on the record as expressing concerns over “why a white European” was allowed to working at a Maldives-based publication such as Minivan News.

“The fact you are a white European doesn’t mean you can come to a third world country and break into our privacy,” he told Minivan News. “You are a white European and a failure in the UK. I have managed many five star resorts and met journalists from newspapers like the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph,” he said.

Upon confirming the reporter’s nationality as a UK citizen, Thamheed expressed his view that the journalist was a stereotypical reminder of the Maldives’ colonial past.  Asked to clarify his comment, he accepted that the Maldives itself had not been colonised by the UK.

“You see yourself as an imperialistic and colonial person, who believes they have imperial superiority over us. No one will give you a job outside this country,” Thamheed said.

He added that although his comments were “not personal”, but questioned Minivan News’ ethics as a news organisation and said the reporter could not be called a journalist for producing what he believed was “biased, one-sided propaganda”.

Thamheed went on to state that as a white European in the Maldives, the Minivan News reporter would not have sought to contact someone for a story in their own country during evening time.

“I have met many top journalists from newspapers like the Sunday Times and the Telegraph. Do you really think this is how journalists are supposed to behave?” he said.

Thamheed requested that his words be remembered by the journalist and quoted directly in this article.

“I don’t think you will be able to sleep tonight,” he said. “I am very happy I have spoken to you.”

MDA leader, MP and Irufushi owner Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam was not responding to calls at time of press.

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29 thoughts on “Politics in paradise: Irufushi resort staff complain of political “firing spree””

  1. Sun Shiyam might be an MP, but I personally have seen the low standard of himself. The same issues are going at Vilureef even. The staff are forced to join his party if they want to stay in their jobs and they are forced to vote for Yaameen. I call the world to boycott resorts where uncivilized General Managers hold the posts in such degrading manner and also where the workers live in fear!

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  2. “The fact you are a white European doesn’t mean you can come to a third world country and break into our privacy,”

    Well, well, where do we start? Firstly, there's really no point in arguing with an ignorant air-head anyway. We have to rise above them.

    Clearly, he is quite happy to accept "white Europeans coming to his third world country" and spend their Euros and US dollars, as long as the "white Europeans" stay quiet about all the atrocities carried out in his "third world country".

    He doesn't realise that the world has moved on and the frenetic speed of communications and globalisation impacts everyone, everywhere more so now than ever in the history of the world. Clearly, he doesn't understand journalism either.

    A Sunday Times travel reporter coming to his resort is quite different from a Guardian investigative journalist going over there looking at the living conditions of staff, for example. Quite simply, his boss is peeved that the staff working there did not vote for their party. When we talk of propaganda, he conveniently forgets the rubbish his boss owns named Sun. Anyway, seems to be a little man filled with a lot of hatred and internal conflict.

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  3. Abdulla Thamheed sounds like a piece of work. With an attitude like that how did he end up getting the job of a manager? Oh wait we are talking about Sun Travel Shiyam's resort. Anything is possible in his resorts.

    Isn't this the same guy in whose resort Vilu Reef the infamous wedding video incident took place.
    Its utterly disgusting what Shiyam is doing to his staff, his political party can partner with Yameen all he wants but to force his staff to do it, it totally unacceptable.

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  4. Oh and unfortunately Abdulla Thamheed also sounds like he is suffering from a little pe*is syndrome

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  5. Thamheed, the GM is a useless guy without any knowledge, he's arrogant and has no decency. Same for HR Manager Aslam, the biggest racist in our country, no brains and no balls, just a big fat mouth.
    I worked there when it was Hilton, no issues, but when these morons came, I left.

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  6. Im a staff from irufushi. To sham HR manager aslam terminated aswell, not only 2 terminated we lost 7 staff from here same time they lost the right to vite. They r registerd here. Arroun 20 new hired from who belongs to MDP so they will miss voting no chance to register here. Also they r foced ti sign to MDA if not terminats, staff bar is MDA campaign station where salim n his puppets drink alcohol,weed and canpaing against MDP just only using laadheenee. Shame on uf**kers... we MDPians just keep quit and attend there meetings only to here and increase our love to MDP

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  7. The problem lies with placing ballot boxes on resorts/industrial islands/foreign countries to cater to 100 or so voters.

    The voter base is so small that the ballot is no longer secret in effect. Congrats to the fools who continue to agree on voting in this manner.

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  8. First of all, let me say, I am not Maldivian, so am not associated to any party, and neither promoting one party or the other.

    I am working in IF. And everything is simply true:
    - People DO get fired for their political beliefs
    - We DO get stripped of most very basic human rights here
    - Staff benefits are cut down to the last bit
    - Many feel like being held in a concentration camp

    Regarding those political entanglements:
    I can fully confirm every statement the article makes to be true. It gives an exact picture of what is going on in this resort at the moment. There is no demagogy or propaganda involved.
    I consider myself lucky to not be pulled into this, as I am a foreigner.

    A few words on the new management and Sun itself:
    The new management can only be described as highly arrogant, ignorant, incompetent, and ruthless.

    Very few are truly on "the same page" with this "resort" (I would rather call it a political boot camp), but many simply cannot afford to loose their job and try to stay low.

    Ever since Hilton left, the resort standard is dropping to always new lows. Most of this directly results out of active doings by the management (mainly Mr Thamheed and his evil protege [aka DO]). By simply reading Mr Thamheed's statements, everyone gets a clear picture of this mind- and (non existent) skill set.

    It's a very frustrating situation for most people, as you have to be afraid to get fired for even expressing your opinion about work related issues. If one does not fully agree with management ideas, or even gives productive suggestions and alternatives, one very quickly becomes disliked. There is very little reason to be motivated on the job.

    Concluding:
    I am not very familiar with the programs of the Maldivian political parties, but simply experiencing what is being done here would cause me to never ever vote for this or any affiliated parties.
    I sincerely hope this company/party gets the check for all their questionable and immoral actions.

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  9. Man, I feel sorry for you guys working on this Resort! It would be better not working here but vote for the right guy!

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  10. Set aside your greed for a paltry sum of money your slave-driving masters make, and strike for the sake of the nation!

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  11. In this country , anything against Nasheed will be considered as bad by 30+% of our population and they are very active in the social media and even this news is Nasheed propaganda machine.

    Shiyam is not such a bad personal as portrait here and companies like Safari tours were much worse than this.

    Since they were the biggest company in Maldives during 80s , there were no single person who had been extended a hand from this ruthless business owners. They have never done any social contribution and they have never helped any Maldivian except thier relatives ?

    Shiyam had been a smart businessman in this country.

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  12. I'm passing on this to the foreign office right now...

    Let see how it'll work next time that Abdulla Thamheed tries to travel outside his 3rd world country...

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  13. @facts

    "Shiyam is not such a bad personal as portrait here and companies like Safari tours were much worse than this."

    It's OK, Shiyam. Calm down.

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  14. As a Maldivian, I think this dude, Abdulla Thamheed is a disgrace to this nation.

    Abdulla Thamheed, get some sense. I have a feeling you never had proper schooling, nor was brought up by a caring parents, but then thats not good enough reason to dish out your filth in the name of all Maldivians.

    MATI, do you advocate to maintain any standards for people who work in your industry?

    For some reason, why does this Shiyam is always linked to damaging the image of this country - once by doing filthy wedding ceremony for couples.

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  15. I've worked in irufushi and from my experience I can say thamheedh is a very kind person open to ideas and listen what staffs say. But since the owner sun siyam actively started promoting MDA his political party thamheedh was forced to do so. What ever he says and do against staffs must be orders coming from above and like other staffs he also has a fear of losing job if he don't do what the owner says.
    Thamheedh you are a good man just find a job from another resort and tell everyone that you are sorry for terminating staffs and all the bad things that you are forced to do at irufushi by the owner.
    But why did you end up saying that "white European" since you married to one of that white European? I hope you really don't mean it

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  16. Thamheedh, a good man?

    What good man is happy about trying to make some not be able to sleep at night?

    "“I don’t think you will be able to sleep tonight,” he said. “I am very happy I have spoken to you.”"

    This guy is absolutely out of his mind!

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  17. I am working for Mr. Shiyam in one of his properties. I am openly supporting MDP and President Nasheed. Well, to be very honest, so far I have not got any warnings that I will loose my job. Let's not mix-up everything. If something like that is to happen, I should be amongst the first batch to be fired. Because my vote will never go to Yaameen. Well, if something happens politically to me, all of you would know within no time. But, so far I'm confident that as long as I do my work properly, my Job is secure with Sun travel Shiyam. Thank you

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  18. Politic is all about winning and revenge. I don't believe what they have mentioned in the article. Rishwan may be still suffering from what he may did wrong for the company. I saw this letter from FB. If peoples don't know how to read English they will not understand what's written their. What to do? If any body wants to win they can lie saying anything. I worked with Thamheed. I know he is a good guy. Rishwan knows that he was working in a company which is openly involve in a politicle party. And why is he against them. Non of us will allow anybody to work and live in our properties if they are against us. Thats human nature. I know you all will agree. The same thing happen to Mr. Shiyam. Good job shiyam. He is atleast letting peoples to talk. Worse peoples will be out of his life and will end up just the way Rishwan did. Good job Sun Shiyam & Thamheed.....

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  19. At the end all comments about Shiyam and Thamheed are positive.. Suspicious. And how crazy can you be as a European to marry a guy like Thamheed. Hus wife couldn't get a husband in her own country (wink) or there must be money involved..

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  20. "Non of us will allow anybody to work and live in our properties if they are against us."

    There is so much wrong in that sentence, makes me speechless ...

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  21. Infiltrate the enemy's resource pools and shut down their operations, then quit. Force them to spend more on keeping employees until they spiral into debt.

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  22. Gm also a suporter of mdp but he need his job.inhhousekeeping there was two dolls of salim umar n haroon.

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  23. Abdulla Thamheed, you scold British and Europeans. Bus isn't the resort full of whiltes are colourds?? If you hate the British and Europesns, then do not promote your resort to these Nationals. You are nothing but a hyproctite. You eat from the money that Europeans and British and other clients spend and then you scold them. U idiot.Just like drunken Shiyam. He arrived to Maldives last year from a trip abroad with a bottle of liquor in his bag. All bloody hyproctits.

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  24. Hi to All,
    I am a foreigner.And worked in Hilton.Maldive is a paradise but due punch of some stupid people Like Shyam ,his brother Salem and of course his supporter.They have forgotten that this is 21 st century.It is not a dictatorship.I gave u job.now u shd lick my A**. He pretends to be a Muslim.he and his wife when they enter to the resort first they drink a lot of alcohol.Haram meaning he doesn't know it seems.they cheated Hilton.now they r fooling locals.I am lucky to resign on same day as Hilton was cheated by Shyam.where is labour ministry ?irufushi has hired nearly 200 new staffs out if them mostly will be terminated after election mostly will be terminated.by saying that they were in probation and doesn't suit to job.they have terminated not only 7 but more staff forcefully.Coz staff didn't want to have bad name so they have been asked to right resignation letters.I CANT EXPECT FROM SHYAM ANYTHING AS GOVT. ITSELf IS CHEATING AND NOT LETTING FAIR ELECTION TO BE HELD(((
    Let people of
    Maldives decide what do they want.Best of luck to all of I guys.

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  25. To Shiyam, the MDA and PPM. Gentlemen – the WORLD is watching and so are your customers, I was one of them. I have been to Iru Fushi several times, the latest being just before you threw Hilton out earlier this year. You need to separate your political views from your business goals or you WILL ultimately pay the price. I will not return to any of your properties until you do so, and neither will any of my friends or colleagues. We are watching you! Your customers are not blind. We live in a connected world where you and your actions are visible to everyone on the planet at the touch of a button and your high end clientele are some of the most connected and switched on individuals there are. Remember where your wealth comes from, tourism, ultimately you are only hurting yourself but I fear you don’t realize this.

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  26. Sounds a dreadful situation for an employee to be in. Thankfully there was no indication of this tension at Park Hyatt Hadahaa. I would tell you about the island but Trip Advisor has other ideas (up yours Trip Advisor)

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