CSC to challenge ruling on sick leave allowance

The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has decided to challenge an Employment Tribunal ruling that established that the commission cannot deduct a civil servant’s service allowance for sick leave.

A CSC official told local media today that the commission will appeal the ruling at the High Court this week.

The tribunal last Wednesday ruled in favour of a senior project officer at the fisheries minister in a dispute with the commission. Naseef Mohamed had contended that the deduction of MVR66.76 from his service allowance in January when he called in sick for a day was arbitrary.

The tribunal ordered the commission to reimburse the deducted amount within 14 days.

The three members on the tribunal ruled unanimously that deducting the service allowance does not fit any of the circumstances specified in the Employment Act that allow deduction of salary or wage payments.

The commission reportedly began imposing pay cuts for sick days under new civil service regulations enacted in December.

All employees of the fisheries ministry have meanwhile signed a petition to permanent secretary Dr Abdulla Naseer seeking reimbursement of deductions from their service allowance.


Majlis passes Sexual Offenses, and Social Protection bills

The People’s Majlis has passed the Sexual Offense Bill and the Social Protection Bill ,sending them for ratification by the president.

The Sexual Offenses Bill was passed with a majority vote of 67 from 69 members who took part. The Social Protection Bill was was passed unanimously with 69 votes.

A third bill – the third amendment to the Employment Act – was also passed in the final sitting of the third session of the Majlis on 30 December 2013. The amendment was brought to chapter five of the act regarding the employment of foreigners.


Employment tribunal orders GMR to reinstate 18 baggage handlers

Eighteen Maldivian GMR employees will be reinstated as permanent baggage handlers at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport and given seven months back pay in a lump sum, the Employment Tribunal has ruled.

The Tribunal found last week that the employees’ temporary contracts, which were terminated in May, had violated rights and benefits conferred upon employees by the Employment Act.

The ruling states the contracts violated company policy, which identified baggage handling as a permanent position but for which workers were only issued temporary contracts.

“The employees were technically working in a permanent position, although they worked under a temporary contract. The Employment Act article 4[a] states that there shall be no differentiation in salaries of employees working in the same level,” said the Tribunal’s ruling.

The Maldives’ Employment Act does not state that temporary contracts themselves are invalid, as was reported by local media. The Act defines a “temporary employee” as someone “working on a day to day basis with no prospect of being made permanent employees.”

The contracts, which were issued by the airport’s former operator Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), were found to violate provisions of the Employment Act.

“The contracts had been issued on a three month basis by [Maldives Airports Company Limited] before GMR took them over,” said a Labor Relations Authority officer. “The Labor Relations Authority found that they did not provide for annual leave or for a Ramazan allowance,” he said.

According to the officer, GMR had been asked to update its temporary contracts in accordance with the Employment Act after employees filed a complaint in January. The contracts were updated as requested, and upon their expiration in May the employees were dismissed and a baggage handling company was hired.

Employment Tribunal Registrar Alia Haneef could not say if GMR’s hiring of a baggage handling company was against any regulation. However, “the previous contracts were invalid,” she said. “Section 13 states that employees who have been working under any form of contract for a total of two years or more are entitled to permanent contracts.”

The employees originally asked the tribunal to order GMR to reimburse them the money they would have received as permanent employees, however the report states that the tribunal was unable to rule on cases older than three months.

The tribunal concluded that GMR was to pay the value of seven months’ salaries and allowances within seven days and to consider the terminated employees as permanently contracted employees.

The case was filed at the tribunal on 27 April, although the order to pay back seven months’ worth of salaries and allowances refers to a start date of January 26. The tribunal’s reports claims this adjustment compensates for the first three months of the case on which it is unable to pass ruling, due to time elapsed.

A GMR spokesperson said the company had not been officially informed of the outcome by the Employment Tribunal and was unable to comment on the matter.

Correction: Previously, the article stated that “the Tribunal found that [the contracts] did not provide for annual leave or a Ramazan allowance.”

It should have stated that, “the Labor Relations Authority found that [the contracts] did not provide for annual leave or a Ramazan allowance.”


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.”


Industry seeks “grace period” for overhauling employee living conditions

Business organisations and labour rights groups have called on the government for more time to address proposed amendments to the Employment Act that will drastically shake up living standards for foreign and local workers employed within the Maldives.

The Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports has today invited comments on the new proposals requiring all employers within the country to ensure that specific standards of living quarters are being provided to staff such as those living on resorts or construction sites.

The proposed amendments to the Employment Act outline new requirements for staff accommodation that include providing a clear separation of work and private space, sufficient artificial or natural light, purpose built kitchen areas and specific health and safety standards.

From the perspective of employers, Mohamed Ali Janah, President of the Maldives Association of Construction Industry (MACI), said that despite certain negative perceptions of the industry over treatment of its workers, beyond a few bad examples, there was a willingness to improve treatment of staff.

“Any improvement [to worker’s living conditions] we would welcome. Yet, with any improvements there is a cost attached to this,” he said.

Speaking to Minivan News, Janah said that he believed that the proposed amendments to workers’ living conditions would impact on the cost of construction work in the Maldives.  He said implementing such living standard changes would therefore require a grace period of around one year to allow businesses and their customers to adapt to the changes.

The MACI president claimed that in an already highly competitive marketplace,  society, rather than the construction industry alone, would have to accept some of the financial burden to offset the higher costs of accommodating workers to the standard proposed by the Human Resources Ministry.

“This will definitely have an impact on proposed costs in the industry. Right now, in what is currently a competitive market. We are just managing to get through the economic situation,” he said.

Alongside the Employment Act regulations, Janah said that he believed that additional legislation relating to occupational health and safety was needed to be addressed both in terms of private and government contracts – an issue he claimed was not always the case in negotiations for a construction project.

“The Maldives building code and health and safety requirements also need to be addressed along with these amendments,” he added.

Taking the example of what he believed were differences between the present and previous governments, the MACI president claimed that the implementation of a more structured national budget had meant that state building contracts were no longer a sure thing for building groups. These changes within the construction market were therefore seen as putting further pressure on building firms to try and cut costs while providing new residences for staff.

“[The accommodation proposals] are a good move, but there needs to be time for the industry to adapt,” Janah claimed. “There is awareness of the new requirements that needs to be created. I don’t believe penalizing companies would be the best practice and that a grace period of around a year would be a good time frame to address [the changes].”

Tourism workers

From a tourism industry perspective, worker’s organisations like the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) have criticised the decision to give just 15 days to provide feedback to the regulations proposed by the Human Resources Ministry.

TEAM President Ahmed Shihaam said that the association would be discussing its responses to the changes in accommodation within the next 24 hours, though had hoped the group would also have time to consult with tourism industry employers as well.

Shihaam claimed that a 15 day time-frame to respond to the regulations made it difficult to consult with important stakeholders like resort employers on the long-term implications of the proposals.

“Rather than days, we may need a month or so to address these issues properly, both with our members and the employers [the resorts themselves],” he said. “This is new to us all and the intention is not to make enemies.”

The Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), which represents a number of resort businesses operating in the country was unavailable for comment when contacted by Minivan News at the time of going to press.

In addressing the proposals for the Employment Act, Human Resources Minister Hassan Latheef said that the proposed new accommodation standards had been adapted from recommendations outlined by the International Labour Ogranisation (ILO), specifically in terms of sanitation conditions and room size.

Latheef claimed that the proposals would address many of the complaints and concerns received by the country’s Labour Relations Authority from Maldivian Workers concerning the conditions of their accomadation, particularly at resort level.
“Maldivians, rarely complain on 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,” he 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.”

By comparison, Latheef claimed that about 95 percent of complaints received by the Labour Relations Authority from expatriate workers related to the alleged failure of an employer to pay their wages rather than living conditions.

Accommodation amendments

The proposals opened up to public consultation by the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports are scheduled to come into force four months after being published in the government gazette.

These requirements include:

  • Lodging should provide shelter from the natural elements, and be constructed using suitable materials
  • If a lodging is based at a work site, there should be a fence separating these two area at a distance of 1.5 metres
  • At entrance of lodging, a service provider’s name and contact number should be displayed along with the maximum number of people that can be accommodated
  • Lodgings should have enough daylight or artificial light as well as a means of letting air pass through
  • A single worker’s accommodation should equate to 6 square metres of living space at a height of 2.4 metres and an all round width of 1.8 metres
  • For 2 people sharing accommodation, there should 9 square metres of space that is 2.4 metres in height and 2.1 metres in width – each extra person after that should be supplied with 4.5 square metres of living space, 2.4 metres in height with a width of 2.1 metres
  • Rooms should be for separated by gender, unless workers are married
  • Lodgers should also have a means of locking away valuables
  • A toilet should be provided for every 10 people staying at a lodging
  • A sewerage system should be in place and constructed with permission from the relevant authorities
  • A kitchen should be supplied that is appropriate for the surroundings, while it’s forbidden to cook inside lodgings at construction sites
  • Employers or the service provider will be fined up to Rf5,000 for each failure of regulation that is recorded

More information on the measures can be found on the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports’ website.