Advocacy NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) has assisted 560 migrant workers with cases of non-payment of wages, poor working and housing conditions, withholding of identification documents and forced labor.
“People need to be more outraged. Migrant workers are not of our nationality, but they are human beings. Maldivians need to consider their plight, especially on May Day,” TM’s Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed told Minivan News.
The NGO estimates there are an estimated 200,000 migrant workers in the country – a figure that amounts to two thirds of the Maldives population.
“But migrant workers have few rights and do not have access to justice. They often face threats or violence even for speaking out about injustices,” Aiman said.
“The 560 cases we were able to assist are really the tip of the ice-berg. We need to do more. Civil society needs to do more, the government needs to do more,” he added.
In 2013, the U.S. State Department ranked Maldives on tier two of its watch list for human trafficking for the fourth consecutive year. Countries are ranked on tier two if the absolute numbers of trafficking victims are increasing and if their governments fail to take substantive measures to address the problem.
A downgrade to tier three could leave the country open to non- humanitarian and non trade international sanctions.
The State Department noted fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages or debt bondages as some of the forced labor situations faced by migrant workers in the Maldives.
A government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives’ second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$ 123 million a year
The Maldives ratified an Anti-Trafficking Act in December 2013, but TM noted implementation, monitoring and enforcement of laws and regulations are crucial to prevent human trafficking.
In addition to the Anti- Trafficking Act, the Maldives has two regulations on migrant workers – the Regulations on Expatriates Working in the Maldives and the Regulation on Bringing Expatriates for the Purpose of Employment.
“Human trafficking often happens due to systematic governance failures, often caused by corruption. Corruption and human trafficking need to be addressed as a matter or urgency to prevent abuses,” Aiman said.
The NGO has called on migrant workers to call its toll free number (800) 300 3567 or visit its free legal advice center between 9 am and 5 pm on working days. The center is located on the 7th floor of MF Building on Chaandhanee Magu in Malé.
TM has helped a group of Indian workers obtain eight months’ worth of unpaid wages and assisted a Bangladeshi group restore electricity in their living quarters.
Employers had cut off electricity when the group asked for the Labor Relations Authority’s assistance in obtaining six months’ wages. The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) is now monitoring the case.
In January, the Maldives Police Services made its first arrest on charges of human trafficking. A 48 year old Maldivian and six expatriates were arrested from Baa Atoll Goidhoo island.