Staff at Alidhoo Resort in Haa Alif Atoll have not been paid for up to six months in some cases, sources in the resort have alleged to Minivan News.
According to information from Tourism Employees’ Association of the Maldives (TEAM), corroborated by sources at the resort, the Alidhoo’s management have not paid the resort’s 125 expatriate staff for six months, while the 85 local employees have not been paid since May.
Alidhoo is run by J Hotel & Resorts, a company owned by current Deputy Leader of the Jumhoree Party, MP Abdullah Jabir, the husband of newly-appointed Minister of Human Rights, Dhiyana Saeed.
Also according to the resort source, the resort has also been deducting seven percent from every staff’ member’s salary for the state pension scheme, but have allegedly failed to deposit this money in their pension accounts.
Staff have gone on strike on three previous occasions over the salary issue, but have been met with harsh penalties including the dismissal of those staffs involved in the strikes. Staff at resort reported that the occupancy was currently eight percent.
Staff went on strike last year shortly before Ramadan, claiming non-payment of wages.
“It is almost the end of this month and Ramadan is coming up – we have to send money to our families back on the islands and we are really broke,” said a staff member working in the resort at the time.
He also alleged that allowances for the staffs working in the resort had not been paid for the last three months, including service charges and overtime.
The company at the time stated that the delay in payment of the wages was because Jabir, the company’s chairman, was not in the Maldives at the time. Jabir told Minivan News at the time that “The payments were delayed because I was not here.”
A few days later, the resort made a decision to sack 12 staff members following the strike over unpaid wages. Following the dismissals, Jabir told Minivan News, “Don’t ever call me about this again.”
Minivan News tried contacting Jabir today, but did not respond at time of press.
Speaking to Minivan News on condition of anonymity, a staff member today told Minivan News that they were “helpless”. Expatriate staffs in particular had been “forced to remain silent” as their employment was at stake, the source said.
“Every time we go to the management, they say they would pay next week – but it never materialises. Now it has been a month,” he said.
The staff member also confirmed that pension money was regularly deducted but had not been deposited into their pension accounts for the previous five months.
“The last deposit made to our pension account was on January 2012. I personally checked with the Pension Administration Office and that was what they told me,” he said.
The staff member further said that the resort’s bed occupancy had not risen above eight percent for the last two months. This, he said, had dissuaded staff from further strike action “because if we stage a strike we know it is going to be us who will suffer at the end of the day,” he said.
Asked if the staff has contacted the relevant authorities for assistance, he claimed that the process was “long and too risky”.
The General Manager of the Resort, Mr Jadullah, denied the allegations stating that the resort was paying its staff regularly, and told staff to “come and collect it”.
“Those claims over unpaid wages are not true. We have been paying the wages on a regular basis, but there may be some staff who have not come to collect their salaries,” he told Minivan News. “We have asked those staff to collect their salaries before the end of this month,” he said.
Asked about the alleged failure to deposit staff pension money, he said that the resort’s Male’ office was responsible and said he had “asked them in writing to provide the details of the deposits.”
“Organise, fight and win”, says TEAM
Mauroof Zakir, President of Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM), told Minivan News that the group had been advising staff on the island after being made aware of the issue.
“This has been happening in that resort for years. In 2009 and 2010 there was a strike regarding unpaid wages and it succeeded in 2010, but after 2011’s strike, the management sacked 12 employees,” he said.
“We are saying that the employees need to organise themselves: they must organise first, and then fight and win,” said Zakir.
Zakir said that TEAM was limited in its capacity to help due to a lack of resources and funding. However he said that TEAM was handling 35 cases currently in several courts and labor tribunals.
He raised concerns regarding the rise of unfair dismissals across the country, and said that even this year so far there had been around 48 such dismissals of employees due to low bed occupancy rates.
Asked about the reasons for the increase, he said, “The biggest reason why the number of unfair dismissals have gone up is because the decisions and orders of the labor tribunal are not enforced. As a result, it encourages resorts to easily sack staff.”
Human Rights Minister reluctant to comment
Human Rights Minister Dhiyana Saeed – the wife of J Hotel’s owner and chairman – said no complaints had been made to her ministry and that therefore she did not want to comment.
Asked for the government’s opinion on the matter of employee exploitation, she repeated her comment.
“I do not want to take the initiative and make a comment on the matter because there are no such reports or complaints submitted to my ministry,” she said.
President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), Mariyam Azra, told Minivan News that the commission would only look into such issues once they had been reported.
Asked if HRCM was advocating the rights of employees, and initiating actions to resolve such matters, she said she would look into the matter and call back. She had not responded at time of press.
HRCM member Jeehan Mahmood told Minivan News that labor exploitation was the number one complaint filed with the commission.
“Sometimes some expatriate workers are forced to work for 11 or 12 months and are not paid or given the required vacation periods. We believe that if it goes on for this long, it’s forced labour,” she said.
Mahmood said that cases in which expatriate workers had worked for 11 or 12 months without pay because they had no other option and were unable to return home, amounted to slavery.