Troubled paradise: Skilled expatriates falling foul of workplace challenges

In the first 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.

A growing number of expatriate workers in fields ranging from education to project management have told Minivan News they are considering leaving the Maldives, and in some cases have already left the country, amidst difficulties and desperate circumstances linked to “cultural clashes” and discrimination from local employers.

Several foreigners who have worked in the Maldives have spoken to Minivan News of the more negative experiences they have had with local employers, who they allege in cases have been “suffocating”, “scary”, and even deceptive in their treatment of expatriate staff, leading them to leave their posts prematurely and in some instances flee the country.


Despite these claims, statistics from government organisations upholding the country’s employment act suggest that the number of official complaints from expatriates regarding their work situation were significantly less than the complaints received by local staff.

The Employment Tribunal told Minivan News that between 2009 and 2010, the proportion of complaints received from expatriates regarding poor or illegal treatment represented less than 10 percent of its total cases.

A tribunal spokesperson, who wished to remain anonymous, said that it had yet to receive a single case of alleged workplace discrimination facing foreign workers, although it accepted the practice undoubtedly occurred and that foreigners required greater recourse should they face illegal treatment in their work.

The Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports, which has the Labour Relations Authority under its remit, said it had not been made aware of significant concerns among expatriates – particularly those from Europe and Asia Pacific – of widespread difficulties or a culture clash experienced working with local employers.

Senior government sources have in recent months outlined concerns about the treatment of huge numbers of unskilled labourers from countries like Bangladesh that are often illegally trafficked into the country, though skilled workers from abroad also appear to have issues with work practice.

While the number of expatriate staff complaints is statistically limited in comparison to the number of concerns received from local employees, foreigners who have sought career development in the Maldives have raised concerns about a pattern of experiences they fear others may face.

One Australian teacher, who spent a year at an international school in the Maldives, found that after years of working across Asia the Maldives was the most “personally challenging”.

The teacher said that while not regretting his experiences in the Maldives, there was very little information on what workers should expect and a seeming lack of interest and acceptance of the foreign experience he had been employed to provide.

“I found work in the Maldives extremely challenging from the point of view of trying to initiate and foster an ‘international education’, with huge limits being put on what could be facilitated in the classroom in terms of curriculum and content – mostly due to ‘culture clashes’,” he said.

“I found many levels, from management, staff and the local community down to students themselves, very unyielding in accommodating ‘international quality teaching and learning’.”

Although working in a very different industry, one UK expatriate – employed for several months as a project coordinator for a high-profile reclamation and construction project before opting to leave the country and her job – said she felt her position was ultimately untenable and that she had put too much faith in the word of her employer before arriving in the Maldives.

“The owner informed me that I should not compare myself to other expatriates from Europe and that expats should work weekends and holidays as they do not have a social life,” she claimed.

“My advice to anyone moving to the Maldives would be to make sure you have a contract that is legally recognised in the country, including the provision of allowances, medical insurance and a job description before you commit. Promises can turn to dust and someone’s word is not necessarily their bond.”

Another employee from the UK, bought to the country to work as a travel journalist and writer after several years working in the Middle East, claimed that she was also unprepared for office life in the Maldives. The employee said her employer led her to feel powerless from treatment she believed amounted to bullying.

“[I] began to feel I was being watched at every step at work. Despite there being one rule for Maldivian staff – keeping whatever hours they pleased, turning up in the afternoon and going to meetings through the day – they brought in a performance management system especially for me, increasing my workload and making me work six days a week,” she said.

Speaking to Minivan News, a representative for the Maldives Employment Tribunal – formed in 2008 to ensure companies were fulfilling their obligations to the country’s labour laws – said that the Maldivian Employment Act was designed to protect both local and foreign workforces equally.

However, the tribunal spokesperson added that the formation of a special union or workers’ associations to protect the interests of foreign employees would no doubt be beneficial to foreign staff, particularly those not fluent in Dhivehi or English.

“If there is a union that can represent foreigners on their behalf, or a workers’ association or something that can represent [foreign workers], then it will be easier to give them access to the tribunal,” the spokesperson said.

According to the tribunal’s figures, in 2009 a mere eight percent of complaints received regarding workplace mistreatment were from expatriate workers, despite these workers constituting a third of the country’s population. In 2010, this figure halved to four percent.

No enforcement

At present, employers in the Maldives are not bound by decisions of the tribunal even if they were found to have breached their contractual or legal obligations, the spokesperson said.

The tribunal is awaiting changes to the Employment Act that will allow edicts to be legally enforced by the country’s Civil Court. A true reflection of of the number of disgruntled foreign employees was likely to follow, the spokesperson said.

“The tribunal itself and the Employment Act is silent on enforcement, so if we issue a verdict and no one enforces it, there is nothing we can do on this,” the spokesperson said.

“Maybe this is why people do not want to go through the hassle of [the tribunal]. If the decision is not implemented, what do they get at the end of the day? We have proposed the Employment Ministry amend the act so that enforcement power could be given to the Civil Court. But these amendments are still going on.”

Local considerations

The tribunal spokesperson said that there was little difference in the standard and type of complaints coming from either local or foreign employees, with few cases concerning discrimination.

“We normally get complaints about unpaid wages and unfair dismissal so it’s sort of the same. It’s basically unfair dismissal and unpaid wage that we receive, even from locals. We get very few cases of discrimination,” the spokesperson claimed.

The tribunal had not dealt with cases such as forced labour or discriminatory behavior from employers, she said, “although 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 in this society knows it is happening in the country,” the spokesperson added, emphasising that employment laws were nonetheless designed to treat local and foreign workers equally regardless of their nationality.

Foreign workers in their own words

Three expatriate employees who have all moved on from their posts recount their experiences of working in the country. The names of the individuals have been changed to protect their identities.

Michael, 28, Australian teacher

“I found working in the Maldives to be a thoroughly challenging, but rewarding experience. Unlike other regions of the world, which provide you with a plethora of websites, books and other resources to enhance your knowledge of what the country will be like to live and work in, there was little to go on before leaving – apart from the Lonely Planet guide (which is more of a resort guide than a window into the inner workings of the country itself).

So going there I had little idea of what living and working in the Maldives would be like. Early challenges included the ‘norm’ for ex-pat life abroad – finding suitable accommodation, getting acquainted with new work conditions and new colleagues, finding friends and generally finding your feet in a new place. I lived in Hulhumale’, which is a swift ferry ride away from the capital city of Male’ – this provided the quiet I desired, but I was close enough to experience Male’ when I had to or wanted to.

I was employed as an English teacher at an international school, which is my profession in my home country. I found work in the Maldives extremely challenging from the point of view of trying to initiate and foster an “international education”, with huge limits being put on what could be facilitated in the classroom in terms of curriculum and content – mostly due to ‘culture clashes’.

I found many levels, from management, students themselves, staff, down to the local community, very unyielding in accommodating “international quality teaching and learning”. To me this is what an international school should provide – opportunities for students to develop holistically and develop critical thinking skills, with an empathy and understanding for different cultures and lifestyles.

The culture of the Maldives and its unwillingness to broaden its horizons and be open to outside influences made school life extremely challenging, not to mention the management of the school ( European in origin) not being open to “local interests and desires” for a child’s education.

The Maldives can also be quite a ‘suffocating’ place, especially for foreign women – Maldivian males are quite primitive in some of their behaviour and I have both witnessed and heard of gross misconduct and harassment on many levels towards Western women. As a male, the country is without doubt an easier beast to handle, but foreign women definitely have cause for concern when dealing with locals at times.

On the whole, once settling into a vastly different style of ex-pat life that I had been used to, I really enjoyed living and working in the Maldives. It is quite a shock to begin with, with rigid cultural and religious elements, quite foreign to many western day-to-day lives, having to be adhered to.

Outside of work there is plenty to do if you have a thirst for everything outdoors. I wouldn’t trade my year there for anything, I met some wonderful people – both local and international, and would recommend people give the Maldives a go.”

Natalie, 47, British project coordinator

“Recruited by a Sri Lankan businessman in the UK to work as a project coordinator in the Maldives, I was very excited about finding what seemed to be an excellent opportunity for my career development, working on a reclamation and construction project.

Having thoroughly researched the UK company, I accepted the job offer to work for the newly established Maldivian company, set up specifically for the project. With what I understood to be tight project timescales, I relocated within a month having the draft of a skeleton contract in email, trusting the owner of the business that the company and its employees were like a family; we could finalise the details of the contract at a later date.

Once there the owner informed me that I should not compare myself to other expatriates from Europe and that expats should work weekends and holidays as they do not have a social life. My advice to anyone moving to the Maldives would be to make sure you have a contract that is legally recognised in the Maldives, including allowances, medical insurance and a job description before you commit. Promises can turn to dust and someone’s word is not necessarily their bond.

Life in the capital of Male’ for a woman is not an easy one. Despite respecting the culture and religious beliefs, wearing suitable clothing and behaving appropriately, the Maldivian men do touch and grab women inappropriately.

There is a great deal of resentment from some Maldivians towards expats and contractors from Europe and the Americas. Fortunately though, some recognise the potential for change to achieve future growth and prosperity in a greener and more international culture.

My experience is something I do not regret. I had the pleasure of meeting His Excellency the President on more than one occasion and was fortunate to make good friends and business associates. Lessons have been learned: such is life.”

Dana, 30, UK journalist

“I have lived and worked on respected publications in the Middle East, I was used to cultural differences and striking harmony between the two ways of working. I believed I was well prepared for the challenges of working in a society with similar beliefs to the Maldives, but nothing prepared me for the challenges that lay ahead.

I was at first pleasantly surprised with the apartment where I would be living. It was a three-bedroom flat with all mod-cons. Upon arriving, the publisher asked me which room I wanted to take and then proceeded to lock the other rooms, he retained a key for the flat and left.

The next morning, for my first day at work I had a rude awakening. The office boy who had collected my luggage was standing above me saying “madam, madam wake up!” Frightened out of my mind, I screamed at him to get out of my room. It was a strange and scary start to the day.

Any newsroom is supposed to be buzzing with reporters going in and out the office and colleagues coming in and out. Instead the publisher wanted it to be like a factory, rehashing press releases. He even had the general manager prepare us job descriptions, though it was clear that he hadn’t the first clue about journalism and was contending with staff with more than five decades of media experience between them.

Increasingly I also began to feel I was being watched at every step at work. Despite there being one rule for Maldivian staff, keeping whatever hours they pleased, turning up in the afternoon and going to meetings through the day, they brought in a performance management system for me, increasing my workload and making me work six days a week.

The office itself was dangerous and there were no health and safety regulations. The unlit entrance to the office had live cables swinging above the off the stairs and water on the bathroom floor. A campaign to bring it up to safe standards fell on deaf ears.

The general manager took me aside and tried to blacken the names of my colleagues, telling me they were not acting professionally in his eyes, but that he liked them and would give them more chances to improve.

Why was he telling me this I thought? I didn’t want to get involved, being such a newbie. Then he tried insinuate if I played by the rules I would do well. I didn’t like his tone or his allusions. It was as if he was trying to see what side I was on and divide and conquer. Baffled, I said that my colleagues had showed me nothing but kindness and respect and I didn’t want to be part of anything he was insinuating. I felt really uncomfortable with all of this.

I told my colleagues about his strange behaviour and bribes. They said they were not surprised. At various times he had tried the tactic with them all.

This alarmed me. Understandably at this point I was scared because I did not know what I had got in to. I only took the job because I thought this was an opportunity to further develop myself after my Middle East experience. I didn’t have the resources to move on.

Strangely, there was another power struggle going on between the publisher and the GM, who used to turn up late in the afternoon. Overall their attitude was arrogant and disdainful towards us and they showed no recognition for how hard the staff had been working to make their product
a success. Morale was so low in the office and all the energy and enthusiasm I had brought with me was being sapped. I felt I had served a lifetime, though barely a week had gone by.

There was a clocking in machine and we were required to clock in between 9am and 5pm and soon our interviews were being classed as time out by the publisher and his minion. I couldn’t believe their method of thinking!

We had contacts begging us to go out and visit them, yet we were ‘trapped inside the office.’ We tried everything to convince the publisher in the value of letting us out of the office. Yet he turned it into a punishment, banning press trips from the second week.

The day after Halloween, I received a phone call from my colleague who said she had just been fired. I was running late into the office from a meeting, so I couldn’t quite process it, she said that she had not been given any reason for the dismissal. My editor and the other reporter were in the office when I arrived and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. It was such an awful morning. My macabre mood suited the topic of my writings that day a feature about ghouls and jinnis of the Maldives for a Halloween special.

We met outside for lunch and one of the reporters revealed that he was tendering his resignation on principle. The editor said he was looking for other jobs abroad but he would need to stay in this job for as long as possible. I felt for them and for the nightmare struggle they must have had so far. I felt suicidal after a few weeks, how about these poor souls?

I began to feel increasingly fearful as I did not want lose my job and have to go home. Not after all the struggle to get here. All those hours spent working in three menial jobs back to back, and taking on limited freelance contracts over the summer just to manage the airfare to the Maldives. I had no option, I was trapped, without enough money to go forward or back.

A few days later all hell broke loose. First the reporter who had tendered his resignation was called in and told that he was going to be dismissed that day, even though he was owed 30 days notice.

Then the editor was called in – luckily he had also just written his notice and handed it in before he could have the satisfaction of dismissing him. Two bully security guards were called in to almost forcibly remove them. I was so upset and shocked by the whole events which were unfolding. It was all going too fast – I couldn’t compute.

My state of mind was in tatters at this point imagining the worst, wrestling with my conscience, my pride and my dignity. My home was part of the work package so could not leave the company and try to find another job.

I didn’t have a choice. At this stage still hadn’t even been paid. I was also running out of cash and there was no one to help back home.

So I stayed… but at this point I still hadn’t even received my visa, and was required to leave the country and go to Sri Lanka. Still with no money, I asked the publisher to pay my expenses, but he said he would only pay for the airfare. I asked for an allowance to spend but he refused. Instead he turned out his moth-eaten wallet with £5 GBP and 15 rupees he said I could exchange.

In the meantime my colleagues had an awful time of it having to shift from place to place, but with the help of friends they got by and began setting up their own plans for the future. I tried to support them where I could.

Then I was called into the office and the publisher said he had been told that someone was else living in the flat and there were people visiting me. So what? I felt violated and angry as he had just admitted he been watching my flat. He said that he needed to give permission for anyone to stay. Another control mechanism.

The wheels were already in motion for my own removal. My visa was still in the process of being arranged and they had my passport. Less than 10 days later my fears were realised. I was called into the office and told that they would no longer continue with my employment and when I asked about my passport I was told I had to go to the immigration building to collect it.

I called one of my friends who had contact with immigration and I was told to come down to the office, they had my passport and tickets for me to fly out with Qatar within two days. I filed a case
with the employment tribunal and got my passport back.

The employment tribunal was a long and arduous process and in the end they ruled against me, as I hadn’t worked there long enough so I could not receive any compensation for the trauma of the last few months. Despite a ruling by the court to issue a one way ticket to the country of my choosing, I still have to receive that ticket from the employer. Along the way he pulled all sorts of nasty tricks including putting holds on empty tickets so that he would look good in court, and gazumping me when I went to buy a ticket at the same travel agent.

Overall, I felt an overwhelming feeling of freedom. I want to help people from making the same mistakes as me.”


Letter on waiters doing cleaning jobs

Dear Director General of the Maldives Food and Drug Authority (MFDA),

I appreciate the good work that you are doing, especially the newly started inspection of the country’s food catering services, like hotels, restaurants or cafés.

So, let me bring to your notice something which I believe important looking at today’s situation. The unskilled laborers who are actively working at our food catering outlets in Male’ City are doing the floor and toilet cleaning jobs and as well as the waiter’s job. And also it’s these laborers who are doing the table clearing or cleaning jobs using an awful looking damp and dirty piece of cloth (which actually is a white color piece of cloth but one would look at the cloth and say it’s a black color piece of cloth). Here my worry is that the same laborers who do the waiters’ job are doing the cleaning jobs like toilets, floor and clearing the tables.

I have noticed that a Food & Drug Authority of a country like ours does not allow those who do the cleaning or clearing work to also do the waiter’s job or serve food to customers. I believe it’s only for the sake of the people’s health.

So, I think now it’s time for us to think about such issues as we all know those who are at these areas are very unskilled laborers who know little about food handling. We also notice them digging nose and spitting here and there while doing waiters’ jobs. Here I am not talking about the costly restaurants but the normal places where the majority of people are going for their meals.

Yours truly,

Mohamed Saeed

All letters are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write a letter, please submit it to [email protected]


Government not lifting expat worker limits, HR minister claims

Minister of Human Resources Hassan Lateef, has denied that the government has loosened quotas on the hiring of expatriate workers like domestic servants, claiming regulatory reforms published last week had been designed to try “simplify” hiring foreigners.

Lateef told Minivan News that under new reforms, organisations or individuals wanting to hire expatriates would no longer have to apply for a quota before completing a separate application for a work permit, as part of attempts to make hiring foreign staff easier for employees and employers alike.

The minister added that the amendments, expected to be in place from next week, would continue to permit eligible households to hire a single domestic servant only.

“Some media outlets have been reporting that the government has removed quotas on certain expatriate workers, but this is not the idea at all,” he claimed.

Newspaper Haveeru reported today that amendments had been put forward in the government gazette on Thursday (March 26) to lift quota limits on expatriate employees hired to work either for government authorities, or as volunteer social workers or domestic servants.

Lateef claimed that the published reforms represented a procedural change for the Ministry of Human Resources due to concerns that the additional requirements of imposing a quota system on foreign workers was “totally unnecessary” alongside the existing work permit system.

The minister claimed that the process of an employer having to apply for a separate staff quota had made it difficult to replace expatriate staff such as domestic help quickly.

“There is no point in having too many layers in terms of [hiring] procedure. When it comes to household staff, it can be difficult to replace expatriate workers quickly,” he said. “Yet each household can still apply for only one domestic servant. This criteria is exactly the same as before the amendments were put forward.”

After being published in the government gazette, Lateef said that the amendments were expected to come into place next week.

With these amended regulations coming into place within 15 days of their gazette publication, the minister said he believed that collaboration would be needed with other official bodies such as the Department of Immigration and Emigration to oversee the measures.

Immigration issues

Just last month, the Maldives’ Controller of Immigration told Minivan News that the country needed to address its failure in not having adopted a national immigration policy to protect and control an expatriate workforce, which he estimated to at least equal the number of domestic labourers.

Controller Abdulla Shahid said at the time that that a lack of immigration controls or quota policy in the Maldives had left valuable foreign workers vulnerable to “inhumane” treatment from unscrupulous employers once they had legitimately arrived in the country.

Lateef said that in considering these apparent issues with immigration control in the country, he accepted that the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports would need to work collaboratively with fellow ministries over the changes.

“One cannot separate the issue of hiring expatriate workers between the immigration department and human resources officials. Like with any foreign workers, in hiring domestic servants we do have some [immigration] problems, which is why both systems should be linked,” he said.

Lateef claimed that there was significant work to be done with implementing the new regulations therefore, potentially requiring some additional policy changes to be made by the Department of Immigration and Emmigration.

However, speaking about the amendments to hire expatriate workers and replace the previous quota systems, Immigration Controller Shahid said today that he saw the new system as nothing more than a procedural change that would not significantly impact border control.

Although the changes to the quota requirements were likely to put more responsibility on labour authorities at the Ministry of Human resources, Shahid claimed the system was expected to make hiring expatriate domestic servants a “bit easier” in the country in the future.


Comment: Pigeons and slaves

Our city is not an easy place in which to live. Generally more expensive than any other capital in the region, Male’ is crowded beyond capacity. A thousand motorcycles line every road, cars without places to park at every turn, and the smog created by both suffocating any who dare to walk. Not only are our sidewalks too small, but our homes too overstuffed. Electricity, water, food; the list goes on and on.

And when it all just gets to be too much, we escape to where we can. The Artificial Beach, Jumhooree Maidhan, anywhere to get some space. Yet as I walk along stone pavement to those few clearings we have, I turn my head and look around and I do not see my countrymen. I do not see my people taking respite. As many pigeons as I see in my Republican Square, can I see foreigners crowding my spaces as well. In every direction that I turn, I am alienated in a space that is mine.

In my youth I would want to banish these usurpers. I would want these spaces cordoned off so that a National Identity Card would be required to enter this bare ground, these sanctuaries. Pigeons and foreigners both, I wanted to get rid of them. I wanted my spaces back. We deal with constant societal tension and neglect, and to demand a space for the release of such tension was my right. I ignored the tug at the back of my mind calling these thoughts racist, and refused to accept the dignity of others over the xenophobic tendencies which seem to run through my veins. But now I look back and have to ask: Is it really true? Is such constant and persistent (maybe even mild in some instances, but still ever-present) hatred so deeply rooted within our nation?

I was offended through my national pride that our national places were not ours anymore.

But maybe national pride is supposed to be more than outward patriotism. Maybe it’s working towards getting jobs for the 50 percent of youth who are without them. Maybe it’s addressing the government problems so that there are fewer foreign workers and no illegal aliens. It may even be ensuring those who remain are treated with respect and dignity. Should this not be part of our national pride? Should not all human dignity be part of our patriotism and duty?

Understanding why

But to move beyond our annoyance at them for being here and the illusion that it is a necessary annoyance, we must come to understanding.

Why are there workers in the country?

Why are they treated badly?

Why are there so many illegal aliens?

Why are more workers continually being brought in spite of this?

And how do we fix it?

Social Negligence

These foreign workers are here because there is a demand. Everything a Maldivian can do, a foreigner can do cheaper. Why can they do it cheaper? Not because they are more capable, or that all Maldivians are inherently lazy, but for the very reason they are treated badly.

They are not provided adequate housing, or basic needs such as sustenance. And when the cost going into them is so little, they can afford to offer themselves cheaply as it is their only means to survival. Fundamental human rights and levels of comfort we would demand as a basic need is so far beyond them that it is not their immediate concern. As the defenders and apologists of dictators the world over often say: What starving man thinks of rights?

But in this case we have collectively robbed them of their rights. Of their very human dignity. These men and women are brought here to live in squalid conditions and we allow it because someone has to do the job. So we justify injustice and go about our daily lives.

Why is it that people do not see, that if we just raise their basic standards of living to something that is acceptable to us, we would be able to encourage more Maldivians to enter their workforce as well? Why is it that we refuse to put a minimum wage standard for foreigners when we fought so hard to have it applied to ourselves? Why is it that even the foreign labourers that were employed by the government were only paid $50 USD a month up until recent years when it was increased to a $100 USD?

If we place a reasonable minimum wage, require basic necessities such as housing, bedding, water (to drink and wash), and food to be provided to those labourers brought in, then we even the playing field. Maldivians will be able to be competitive. As someone who owns a share in a construction company, I refuse the excuse that this will bankrupt our companies. I refuse the excuse that it is fiscally unviable. And I refuse any other excuse that would put basic human dignity and rights beyond one’s reach.

Government Negligence

The reason why there are so many illegal aliens is because people in the government (previous and current, legislative and executive) have not cared to address the situation properly. They had other more important matters, vested interests, and always the threat from the entire business community to contend with. Why fix a system that is not really broken? After all, the businesses benefit from cheap labour and a couple illegals here or there only means they will be even cheaper to hire.

While this is the reasoning behind the reality, the practical reason why illegal alien growth persists is mostly due to the quota system.

But let me explain the entire procedure first: If you want to bring a labourer, your business has to be licensed by the Ministry of Economic Development. Then you have to apply to the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Labour, explaining the projects you have and why you need the labour to begin with. This Ministry then issues you a quota of workers you can bring in after making a half-hearted attempt at hiring Maldivians you don’t really want to deal with.

When you want to bring in your labourers, you contact a broker and get the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Labour to issue you your work permits for these people. These work permits are then shown to the Immigration Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs and visas are issued on arrival.

The quota system is slightly ridiculous for two reasons.

Firstly, as former Bangladeshi Ambassador Professor Selina Mohsin mentioned, many quotas are created with inadequate proposals and flimsy justification for the number of people needed. Excess people are then loaned out to other companies.

Secondly, conditions are so bad for workers, that when they run away, the Ministry simply reissues the company who lost them with new work permits so that they can still have their quota of people.

If we ignore the first issue as easily rectifiable with greater vigilance, we’re left with the second problem. If a company loses their employees, they are forced to put out an advertisement showing who they lost. But this still means that they are left without enough labour to complete their project. So the Ministry feels obligated to issue them new work permits without so much as a slap on the wrist, essentially allowing even more people into the country without addressing those already here.  The Immigration Department then has no choice but to offer visas to whomever new work permits are issued to.

No government administration has tried to penalise companies for losing people or for providing such inadequate housing and provision for employees. The government has not been active in trying to guarantee the rights of foreign workers, and there has been no thought of creating requirements of minimum wages, clean bedding, water for washing, and suitable sustenance for foreigners. Parliament and the Ministries have taken very little action.

The illegal hordes

The Labour Ministry’s solution was to document illegal aliens, and when people ran away from hostile work environments, they would make those here illegally take the runaway’s place. The business community revolted and we have seen little implementation of this practice since its inception.

The conditions are so bad that many would choose homelessness and destitution, begging for any work that is available so that they can survive. Many become runners for the local drug dealers and spend their days delivering these products of sin. Those who are lucky find Maldivian wives, who (as one person told me) then “feed them, shelter them, and massage their feet.”

Many who do this work for a while and make enough to return to their families in their places of origin, leaving their Maldivian wives without much recourse. This exploitation of Maldivian women caused the Immigration Department to enact regulations that ensure foreigners could provide for themselves and would not be leeches to their Maldivian partners.

But still more foreigners flee from their Maldivian masters and become illegal aliens in this country. And because they flee we bring in more and more people. Last month alone, over two thousand foreign labourers were brought into the country. At this rate, the foreign population in the Maldives will rival our own within our life time (sooner if we take into account our declining birthrate).


To deny a person basic needs, to make him dependent, but also desperate to get away is to make that man a slave.

That what we have in this country is referred to only as human trafficking not outright slave trade is something the government should be grateful for.

We need to change and be the instruments of that change. We need to pass legislation holding companies accountable. We need to respect foreigners’ basic right to human dignity, and put forward a minimum wage that will level the playing field between Maldivians and foreigners.

When more of us work side by side with them, we will have less hostility to those who are in our spaces. What is more, fewer of them will be there, and we will be content to share something that is ours, because we will not feel overwhelmed and isolated.

National dignity and pride can only be achieved when we uphold the dignity of all of those within our borders. When we recognise our prejudices and expunge our xenophobia as something unworthy and distasteful.