Ports Workers Union accuse MPL of employee “rights violations” for political activism

The Maldives Ports Workers Union (MPWU) has accused the Maldives Ports Ltd (MPL) of violating employee rights, alleging the state-owned company has unfairly dismissed four employees due to their political activism.

In a letter on July 12 to MPL CEO Mahdi Imad, Chairperson of the MPWU Ibrahim Khaleel said: “Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, it is now common within MPL to stop employees from expressing certain political views, and violate the Employment Act by unfairly dismissing employees and transferring employees to different departments without prior warning or explanation of any offense committed.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Khaleel said the company mainly targeted employees who supported the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“They send people with cameras to MDP protests to check which MPL employees take part in the protests,” Khaleel said. The MDP has taken to the streets for the 11th consecutive day demanding fresh polls, alleging President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted in a coup d’état on February 7.

In addition to the four employees who have been dismissed, 30 have been suspended and 10 have been transferred from their position at the Malé port to Thilafushi Island port, Khaleel said.

In his letter, Khaleel called on the MPL to “respect an employee’s right to exercise freedoms granted in the constitution and by participating in political activities in his or her free time” and asked the company to withdraw blocks on “social media including facebook, twitter and gmail.”

In response, Imad in a letter on July 16 accused the MPWU of dividing employees and promoting the interests of a certain political party and threatened to take action against the union.

“We have received reports that the union is attempting to divide employees and promote the interests of a certain political party. Hence, I order and advice you not to do so. If this happens in the future, we will have to take action against you,” he said.

Further, access to social-networking sites had been blocked because they “often propagate un-Islamic, sinful activities and propagate the interests of Jews,” Imad said.

Khaleel denied Imad’s allegations, stating that “When MDP was in power, we had a lot of difficulty in registering the union. The MPL management at the time wrote a letter to the Home Ministry requesting that they deny our registration. We are not a political organization, we work for employee rights.”

The MPWU has been contact with other ports workers unions in the region to discuss steps to take next, Khaleel said.

In May, porters working at MPL went on strike after the management confiscated their TV for “watching too much Raajje TV.” Government aligned parties have accused Rajje TV of being aligned with the MDP.

Minivan News also documented the suspension of seven staff at MPL in April. The company claims staff were suspended for violating “norms of good behavior” outlined in the code of conduct, but staff told Minivan News they had been suspended for taking part in MDP protests.