Maldives’ Customs Service workers initiated strike actions on Thursday morning and have threatened a full work stoppage if senior management does not meet their demands by the end of next week.
At 8:30am approximately 90 customs officers began protesting in the main customs building in Male’. They met with Deputy Commissioner General of Customs Mohamed Kamal and other senior management at 10:30am to discuss customs workers’ grievances, communicate their demands, and provide a petition signed by over 250 workers.
As of 11:00am the strikers agreed to give management one week to fulfill their demands and “give a solid answer”, otherwise the strike will restart Thursday.
“From the olden days there has been favoritism and the same thing is still practiced now. We will protest, we won’t stop. These problems should be solved if senior management wants us to be calm,” one of the strike organisers told Minivan News today.
“We decided [to strike] for our children’s future, for their sake we thought we should come out and express ourselves,” the source said. “This is the first time ever customs workers have participated in any strike.”
“We are not fighting for our own individual rights, but for the [customs] staffs’ rights,” the source noted.
Customs workers are aggrieved about senior staff engaging in discriminatory, nepotistic practices, that have led to inequitable promotions, retirement packages, and training opportunities, multiple customs workers told Minivan News today.
“Inequality is very high within customs, people won’t tolerate this,” a source lamented. The source also noted that gender discrimination is a factor impacting women within the government agency.
While “favoritism has been a problem from the beginning”, customs officials noted that these problems have been exacerbated since individuals with education and experience have been overlooked and mistreated by senior staff. “Promotions have not been based on qualifications, these things shouldn’t be happening,” said a customs official.
“On August 15, 2013 senior management met at 12:00am and developed a promotions list in secret. That’s not legal,” the source alleged. The source noted that the promotions criteria was altered to include the subjective “competency” category, however staff were not shown their employment appraisals.
The sources alleged that the promotion grading system has not been adhered to, and instead senior staff have unfairly advanced employees.
“There have been discrepancies in promotions, for example some have received double promotions, while others have not been promoted at all due to their political affiliations,” a customs officer said.
“Promotions have not been lawfully done. The management board includes staff with relatives working under them. They can’t make decisions [regarding promotions] in that state,” said another customs official.
“Some of the senior staff have not attended [the office regularly] and amended their attendance [record], but their status in the human resources [section] says they have attended,” the source noted. “Since there are problems with their performance, how can they objectively evaluate ours?”
In addition to grievances about inequitable promotions, nepotism has led to unfair working conditions as well, a customs official explained.
“Wives and relatives of senior staff are allocated tasks and assigned to sections [within customs] where they only have to work in the morning. There are many sections that require shift duty, but they don’t get assigned shifts,” the source noted.
“Senior staff follow separate rules, they come and go as they please, don’t swipe their finger, and no one is supervising them,” the source continued.
“Recently a case happened regarding a high level shipment, but senior staff instructed us not to fine the shipment and to let it go,” the source added.
Also, employees are being transferred to different departments repeatedly and frequently without reason, according to one source who reported being shifted between three different sections over the last six months.
Another customs official highlighted inadequate working conditions, such as the lack of desks and chairs for some employees, are also problematic for some employees.
The strikers noted that after the promotions were announced in August, they communicated their grievances to the Commissioner General (CG) of Customs, the Home Minister, President Mohamed Waheed, and filed a petition with the Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC).
“The CG said he did what he wanted and no one can do anything about it, the Home Minister said he’d look into it and the President said he’d establish a separate committee to look into the matter,” according to a customs officer. “But still there has been no decision or action taken.”
Customs officers presented a list of demands that include correcting discriminatory practices as well as holding the Human Resource Board of Directors accountable for their corrupt practices.
The board consists of the CG, eight section directors, as well as the human resource section head, customs officials explained.
“The Human Resources Board thinks that this is their company, but this is a government agency,” declared a customs official.
“We are demanding a separate entity be established to deal with promotions and the previous promotions awarded [since August] be cancelled,” the source added.
Some of the customs officers who participated in this morning’s strike claim that senior management told them their protest action was illegal and threatened to fire participants.
“They can fire us, we are ready for that, but they have to fire the board first,” said a customs officer. “We don’t trust [the management] anymore.”
Senior management’s response
Meanwhile, senior customs officials are considering the workers demands but have denied threatening to fire strike participants.
“A group of staff voiced discontent with some aspects of evaluating performance and promotion criteria used, which they claim are unfair,” Deputy Commissioner General of Customs Mohamed Kamal told Minivan News today.
“Management met them and noted the issues. Possible remedial actions are being analysed,” he continued.
“Firing employees are not being considered, that’s speculation,” he added.