Labour authority plays down expatriate worker culture-clash claims

In the second of a two part article, Minivan News looks at the challenges facing skilled expatriates coming to work in the Maldives and the current systems in place to prevent both employees and employers from suffering workplace malpractice. Read part one

The Minister of Human Resources  Hassan Latheef has said that the country’s Labour Relations Authority has not received notice of any cultural difficulties between expatriate staff and local employees in the Maldives. However, the country is planning amendments to employee rights.

Amidst complaints from some expatriates about alleged difficulties and mistreatment from local employers, Latheef suggested that in some cases, language and legislation were key barriers to ensuring workplace harmony.

Several European and Australian skilled expatriates who spoke to Minivan News criticised certain employment practices that they claimed led to clashes with their employers. These clashes are said trigger premature job dismissal, and in some instances force employees to flee the country.

Minister Hassan Latheef, speaking to Minivan News earlier this year, rejected suggestions that any cultural clashes were occurring between foreign workers and their employers, at least as reported by the Labour Relations Authority.

“In the work place, I do not see any cultural differences that are being brought up and creating issues [between expatriate workers and employers],” he said.

According to Latheef, however, the Dhivehi language was seen as a major potential barrier to harmony between foreign workers from outside the region and their local colleagues and employers. He said workers from countries like Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh did not generally face this barrier.

“There is one thing in common for an Indian worker, a Sri Lankan worker or a Bangladeshi worker who is working in the same site doing the same work – their language of communication is Dhivehi. That keeps them not so much nationalistic,” he said, referring to any potential difficulties foreign workers are said to face. “We haven’t come across any cases [of cultural discrimination] as such and this has not been raised as an issue by anybody so far – fortunately.”

The minister did advise caution when addressing the treatment of workers, either national or foreign. Preventing potential widespread difficulties in the future, or culture clashes between bosses and their staff, was important, he said.

“I do sense that if we neglect [the issue of treatment of foreign worker] or keep our eyes shut, this could create problems because you know with Bangladeshis [working in the Maldives], I’m sure they face a lot of things that are not common in other countries,” he said. “So if we don’t keep in our minds that this could be an area that someday might create problems, we always have to be cautious of the issue that these workers are of different nationalities. I know I’m very cautious of that.”

Latheef claimed that legislation –particularly in areas like labour relations – was another key area that the government had pledged to address.  With an estimated 100,000 expatriate workers believed to have been hired in the Maldives, 45,000 are thought to be skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers from Bangladesh. According to Latheef, the High Commission for Bangladesh based in Male’ has worked with the ministry on numerous occasions to resolve any humanitarian concerns or workplace issues that have occurred with its nationals in the Maldives.

Both Former Bangladeshi High Commissioner to the Maldives, Professor Selina Mohsin, and the serving Controller of Immigration Abdulla Shahid have previously told Minivan News that failures in immigration policy left foreign workers vulnerable to substandard treatment and workplace malpractice.

Latheef claimed that concerns over employee treatment were being addressed. Legislation was awaiting approval for local and foreign workers alike that was aimed to cover a wide variety of issues relating to staff and employer rights.

“There is a bill being drafted, a very comprehensive one on industrial relations that would have provisions for making trade unions and everything to do about lockouts, picketing and striking, regulatory bodies’ functions and the Labour Relations Authority – it’s very comprehensive,” he said.

Echoing comments from the country’s employment tribunal, which is independent of the Human Resources Ministry and the Labour Relations Authority that falls under its remit, Latheef said that the majority of complaints received were from local workers, particularly in the country’s tourism industry.

Latheef added that about 95 percent of complaints received by the Labour Relations Authority from expatriate workers involved the alleged failure of an employer to pay wages. He said living conditions or overall treatment were not a commonly raised issue. But the minister believed local workers differed from their expatriate colleagues.

“Maldivians rarely complain about the pursuit of [unpaid] salaries – most of the time, they complain about the conditions at work or their living conditions. Most of the complaints I should say come from resort workers,” Latheef said. “Their complaints come from not being paid a service charge they are entitled to, to conditions of their accommodation and alleged discrimination from senior management.”

Among proposed changes to labour laws, the government last month invited comments on amendments to the Employment Act targeted at setting new living standards for foreign and local workers. These standards aimed to align with International Labour Ogranisation (ILO) recommendations.

The Human Resources Minister claimed that many potential problems currently facing expatriate employment in the country were expected to be eradicated by next year. He anticipates new systems for hiring foreign workers will be in place as well.

The claims were made after the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) assumed the duties of front-line immigration staff and Human Resources Ministry officials handling employment for a several weeks in June, following allegations of corruption in the work permit process.

The controversial decision, criticised by opposition MPs, was said to have Lateef’s support. Lateef believed military assistance was vital to reforming the processes of immigration and hiring expatriate labour.

“I don’t see the problems we have now will be there in 2012,” he said. “For instance we have a backlog of roughly 40,000 expatriates working here illegally,” he said. “The scenario would be very different in dealing with the ways we think of and the manner we act [to employees] on a happy day. But it is not a very happy day for us.”

View from the Employment Tribunal

The country’s Employment Tribunal, formed in 2008 to rule on disputes between employees and employers, previously said it had not received any complaints of alleged workplace discrimination. It also said expatriate cases represented a minority of the overall complaints received.

A tribunal spokesperson, who wished to remain anonymous, added that although the tribunal had not dealt with cases such as forced labour or discriminatory behaviour from employers, “this does not mean it is not taking place fairly openly.”

“I think it is all happening in the country, even if we do not receive such cases. Anybody who is in this society knows it is happening in the country,” the spokesperson added, emphasising that employment laws were designed to treat local and foreign workers equally regardless of their nationality.

The tribunal itself is not currently able to enforce its decisions through the courts, even by ruling against breaches of contractual or legal obligations without additional amendments to the Employment Act.

Accepting this current lack of enforcement capabilities, the tribunal spokesperson added that the Labour Relations Authority did have a legal mandate to take action against employees deemed to be in violation of employment rights.

The spokesperson said it was therefore vital to ensure that inspections of work premises and practices were being carried out efficiently  “[The Labour Relations authority] has the mandate to go to workplaces to supervise and inspect and see if it’s all according to the Employment Act and they can also take action if it is not. Like for example, if the work conditions are not good enough as per the law, if they don’t have a contract, or if they are receiving a salary or not, these people can check on that, but we can’t,” the spokesperson said. “We are more like a court, so we can only attend to the claims submitted to the tribunal and only go on with those cases. I think if the (Labour Relations Authority’s] inspections are conducted well there will be less problems, the institution would be better actually.”

The spokesperson added that ultimately employers and employees alike could come to the tribunal with allegations of breaches of contract, but claimed workers in the Maldives were not aware of their rights or the process of getting a verdict from the tribunal.

“A claim has to be submitted within three months if there is a dispute,” the spokesperson said. “I think awareness [of the tribunal’s work and requirements] is very important especially for foreigners, though locals also have the same problem.”

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14 thoughts on “Labour authority plays down expatriate worker culture-clash claims”

  1. oh god again at it... http://coa.sagepub.com/content/28/4/406.short?rss=1&ssource=mfc

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  2. never a problem too big to find a 'carpet to sweep it under'......... j

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  3. We agree that labour minister Hassan Lathef is living in a dreamy world. It seems that this gentleman is not fit to be a minister. His office is the most corrupted one in the country.
    Now let us make this idiot to understand that Maldivians hates the Bangalhis. We also ask this idiot to make our country free of Bangalhi immigrants we don’t need them here and we do hate them.

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  4. @ hassan ahmed on Sat, 20th Aug 2011 4:56 PM

    Speak for yourself, dont speak for the whole country. Maldivians as whole do not hate bangladheshi nationals (except a few ignorant and discriminatory people like yourself).

    Maldivians could treat thier forieng workers better for sure especially the nonskilled sector (made up of regional workers from Banladesh, India, Sri Lanka mostly) as they are ill treated many times (like not giving wages on time, sometimes hassan type of people led discriminations, and sometimes targetted for crime...actually this last one is not that unsimilar to anyoneelse in Maldives these days..sad but true).

    On the contrary skilled workers from Europe, Australia N.America (in general non dark skin places), they are treated like like royalty here....they get preferential treatment everywhere ...from banks to hospitals (yet these are the most vocal complianers and whiners always). These are also the very same people that often come to Maldives and try to destory the Maldivian culture and traditions...(which has happened for long time now).... Maldives is an Islamic country and does not need the Kuffar ways of the hedonistic west imposed/introduced upon us.

    Unlike the Royalty Expatriates, the regional worker in general respect the Maldivian culture, religion and do not try to introduce foreign cultures and religions to Maldives.

    To end this I would say we should treat muslim expatriates (like the large bangladheshi polulation) with utmost respect and brotherly/sisterly love as is required of us according to our faith (to a muslim another muslim is brother/sister and when in need they should be helped and ingeneral we should treat each other with kindness).

    Also in islam we should treat people (regardless of religion with kindness, and treat them with respect) but we should not take non muslims to be our compatriots/friends (but we can still be civil to them in workplaces etc) as the Hadiths says "kuffar..jew or chirstian is a friend to each other and not to muslims"

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  5. @ ahmed hassan on Sat, 20th Aug 2011 9:07 PM

    Actually I am no Wahabi, just your average Maldivian educated in the west who has a couple of degrees on his belt. I despise Wahabi as much as I do for intolerant people like yourself.

    People like yourself and the Wahabi are as much a threat to Maldivian culture, its not the Bangladhesi who is the threat to Maldivian culture !

    FYI Wahabi version of islam is a threat to Maldivian culture and Islam Religion in general as much as the hedonistic/kuffar ways of the west....

    Moderation is the best virtue of muslims according to the Prophet (PBUH). And wahabi is no moderate they are extremists ...If you were to look a little bit more in history you will soon learn is Wahabi is form of islam that came from very extremist (in the prophets time an unliked tribe of Arabs), called Hunaif Wanha of Najd Arab...they have taken over Saudi Arabia (under deal with the house of Saud's in the 1800's to rule Hejaz)....they have been destroying muslim culture / even places of heritage like the resting places of close relatives of the prophet.

    The only reason they have been able to import/export thier extremism wahabi islam is because Money talks and sadly muslim rulers of today are not following religion...instead they follow the Money..where ever it goes (whether it is Maldives or Arabs).

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  6. “kuffar..jew or chirstian is a friend to each other and not to muslims”

    "I despise Wahabi as much as I do for intolerant people like yourself."

    You did not allow your western education and the degrees clipped to your belt affect your lack of critical thinking or bigotry. Few people achieve this feat after living in a multicultural society.

    Well done.

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  7. @ peasant on Sat, 20th Aug 2011 11:22 PM

    The first quote...not mine its from the quran: Quran verse 5:51

    And yes I think it holds true even today, I see it right before my eyes how the so called fighters of human rights in the west see no better friend than Israel when it comes to issues on the ME.. i.e. the Palestinian vs Israeli issue... it is the Christian support that keeps Israel afloat !!!

    Also by your logic I must cow tow and accept the cultures of where ever I have lived/resided etc... according to that logic I suppose I am just glad I didn’t live in Nazi Germany in 1930s, because they celebrated everything as long as it was Aryan !

    I have lived in the west long enough to understand the deep rooted xenophobia the people in west have towards the “other”, this same hatred is now transplanted against anything Muslim, So before you talk about multiculturalism which according to some important people (like PM Cameron and Chancellor Merkel) have been declared as an utter failure, learn bit about issues such as discrimination in the west (based on any number of factors such as being Muslim, black etc).

    Also fyi I for one think that Maldives should have freedom of beliefs as I for one think that this 100% shenanigan is a lie …. Because in Islam there is no compulsion, it is not us humans that judge us ! It is Allah who judges us…. The same goes for cultures… Maldives should allow many cultures…. But that doesn’t mean I have to say I like them…. But doesn’t mean I am going to stifle them either…. And I certainly am not going tell others they should follow western culture…but doesn’t mean anyone has to listen to me !!!

    To conclude I have a live and let live attitude to life, which means that I will not impose my values on other people, but as a Muslim I feel it is my duty to let others (especially other Muslims) know if I know something true (in the sense of Quruan/Hadith.. and affects after life), but I do not expect them to follow…hence I mentioned the verse that was mentioned at the beginning of this comment….

    Btw I think this comment has gone far beyond the topic of this article…apology for anyone not interested in this back-forth arguments !!!

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  8. @zul..........where were you educated moron..........saudi arabia? As long are there are retards like you in the Maldives, the country will make no progress. Who the hell cares about the Maldives anyway............most people in the world wouldn't know you exist!! Small country, even smaller minds.

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  9. i really liked the maldives and my students were very special.... in quality & number of special students.... it's a pity that a basically decent populace is represented by so many ineffective, ignorant and incipient Government agencies................. j

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  10. Yes, every country, racism, in every culture, racism, the ribal will to power, the need for belonging, identity, social purpose means that by nature we negate the 'other,' those who don't fit into our societal norms...

    BUT THAT is the thing, we MUST, all, all of us, through understanding, through dialogue, through compassion, justice, overcome this racism, just because it is human nature does NOT make it right or acceptable.

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  11. hassan latheef is also a leader of a political party in this country dosnt matter how many peoples are in his party.....lol...

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