Suhaila has been looking for a job for a long time. As typical of many young Maldives, her basic education consisted of GCE O-levels and a foundation program in an American College in Sri Lanka, which was inadequate for her to get employed.
Like many youth, maybe she did not know how to go about finding a job, or maybe her applications did not show her capabilities that convinced potential employers.
She wanted to work in the travel industry, and applied to a few airline agencies. Suhaila is a pretty girl, though far from the ‘catwalk model’ type of girl. Her greatest asset was her kind, helpful and sunny nature combined with a high sense of responsibility, eagerness to work and a positive attitude.
Over two years, she received two responses to her many applications. Both times the interviewers told her that they looked for pretty and slim girls as they would be working in the front line at the reservation desks.
Early this year, Suhaila she was offered a job with training in a new airline ticket reservation agency. The agency is owned by well-known names in Male’, and a few veterans with years of experience in well-known airlines operating in Maldives. Suhaila was confident that this would be a good place to work because of the shareholders.
After a mutual agreement, she travelled to Sri Lanka with another local girl and a boy as well as two of the business shareholders. They arrived late at night.
Around 1.30am, the girls got a call from the two men asking if they wish to go for dinner. Even though Suhaila felt it was considerate of her bosses to think they may be hungry after travelling so long, Suhaila declined, but the other girl went because she was not sure what was expected of her as an employee.
One evening they invited the girls to go clubbing which Suhaila declined. During the training, the guys turned up at the training venue and ask the girls to go shopping with them. Two days later, one of the guys asked Suhaila her family background. Suhaila told him who her mother and father were. Suhaila was not asked to go out with them anymore.
Upon completion of the training and start of work, Suhaila requested to sign her contract. She was told that they did not sign contracts. Her salary was fixed, and her work was ticketing and reservations. She found herself training newcomers, closing sales and doing ‘favors’.
Favors meant that she should re-open sales after closing because owners of the company wanted to issue tickets for friends and favorites. It also meant that Suhaila was expected to come and issue a ticket for company owners even up to midnight hours. It meant that regardless of how inconvenient it was to Suhaila in her personal time, she was expected to come out and work as they were her bosses. She had neither a job description nor clear work guidelines.
What was most bewildering to Suhaila was the confusion she experienced in the conflicting rules of the company owners. If one owner decided the working hours, the other told the staff a different opening and closing time. If one owner decided a ticket could be issued to a foreign worker without a work permit, the other would insist it be issued because it is business for them. The owners spoke at different times but over each other’s authority.
As some staff left out of frustration, a Sri Lankan girl was brought in and Suhaila was asked to train and orient her. Then one day, Suhaila was asked to deal with the salary sheets. She discovered that the foreign girl was earning US$500 as salary and receiving food, accommodation and medicals on top of it. She found out that the Sri Lankan girl got a holiday ticket paid to go and come back. Suhaila’s salary was Rf 3500 (US$272) and no other allowances.
A couple of month’s frustration was followed by her final decision to resign. The daughter of one of the owners’ running the show called for a staff meeting to try and understand the issues at hand. There were no changes in spite of the meeting except that the staff stayed a couple more months hoping something would happen. Finally Suhaila handed in her resignation. The owners expressed regret that Suhaila was leaving them as she was a very good worker. However, concluding that, one of the shareholders’ said they would never hire local staff but employ Sri Lankans who were easier to manage.
Is youth unemployment an issue of lack of intellectual social management?
The story above brings out many issues in the employment of young Maldivians and especially for girls. Instead of seeing youth as an asset to social development, social reality is a growing population of unemployed youth being the victim of social disorder. The problem occurs in a vicious circle where poverty, unemployment, crime, drugs, poor schooling, inadequate housing, broken and dysfunctional families, etc, where each one is the cause and each one is the effect. The future is explosive and a serious threat to social equilibrium as Maldives fails to give hope and social assurance to its youth.
Today the youth in Maldives is seen a liability, a major stumbling block in the transitional democracy, and looked upon as a social burden, their energy and vibrancy diminishing at an increasing rate. Who should be the creator of the conditions that will turn youth into assets? The government is no doubt the caretaker and has a very tough responsibility to fulfill. The pressure of this responsibility is to make the youth of this country economically independent and self-reliant.
It is not an easy task because it means making private entrepreneurs more responsible citizens first. Although the previous government was the major employer of its citizens as compared to the private sector employment in Maldives, it is not a sustainable function for the government, and the state is not responsible for creating jobs. It is responsible for creating a climate where jobs will be created, and it is responsible to take a proactive and not a reactive step to encourage entrepreneurial development for the purpose of economic and social benefit.
Small and medium businesses continue to be collectively the major employer in the developed countries. What falls under the government’s responsibility is to encourage and motivate the job creators, support capacity building, create legislations that nurtures social values, create aggressive alliances with the civil society, be in continuous dialogue with all the different development sectors and demonstrate faith in the Maldivian youth, give them respect, direction and a consistent message that they are part and parcel of the Maldivian Society.
Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School
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