Thousands sign petition over resort workers’ pay, conditions

A petition calling for sweeping changes to resort employees’ working conditions and a minimum wage has collected two thousand signatures during its first five days.

The Tourism Employees’ Association of Maldives, which launched the petition, said it had amassed signatures from workers on 17 resorts since last Wednesday.

“Signing for new hopes and rights,” the group said on its Facebook page. “Keep going [with] the great work of humankind.”

The petition demands a minimum monthly wage of US $600 across the sector through an amendment to the Employment Act.

There is currently no minimum wage and the petition says that wage rates have not increased in the sector for 10 years.

The workers are also asking for quotas to require 80 per cent of tourism employees in the country to be Maldivian, which would require big changes in the hiring practices of resorts.

Current laws require 50 per cent of resort employees to be Maldivians, but the rule is not widely enforced. The sector employs some 11,426 Maldivians and 16,342 expatriate workers, meaning that overseas employees constitute 59 per cent, according to preliminary figures for the 2014 census.

TEAM also wants the president to honour a pledge to make shares in resorts available to their rank-and-file employees, a rarity in a country where resorts are generally owned by private companies controlled by a few individuals.

In February 2014 President Abdulla Yameen said that by the end of the year, a number of resorts would be floating a portion of their shares to the public, and urged Maldivian employees to become stakeholders.

The president said that share ownership would be a “lucrative addition to their current income from salary and other perks through employment at these resorts”, according to a press release issued at the time.

Speaking at the opening of the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi resort, Yameen also said the Sun Travel resort group would float up to 40 percent of its shares to employees in the coming years.

However, the pledge of shares for resort employees has not so far become a reality.

The petition also asks for a 12 per cent service charge to be applied and for 99 per cent of that to be distributed “fairly” among tourism employees, as set out in the Employment Act.

TEAM’s supporters are seeking the right to form a union, as set out in the constitution, and the right to protest in resorts, which was banned in 2012 under the Freedom of Assembly Act.

The law says that protests can only be held in resorts and in air and sea ports after a special permit from the police based on the advice of the military, but TEAM cites the constitution’s guarantee of the right to peaceful protest.

Over the past few years, resort workers have occasionally tried to launch protests.

Workers who had been fired from Sheraton’s Maldives luxury resort for demanding union recognition protested near the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort and Spa in February, according to the website of the International Union Federation.

Carrying banners with slogans such as “Sheraton fully booked — no room for human rights”, the dismissed workers carried out a boat picket around the resort, while employees came to the beach and waved in support.

In February 2013, an employee strike in Vaavu Atoll Alimathaa resort resulted in 27 employees being fired by management.

According to Haveeru, Ahmed Adeeb, the tourism minister, said at the time that protests in resorts would affect tourists both directly and indirectly.

“Such things must not be encouraged by anyone. Especially when it is something banned by law, it must not happen. No one should encourage or give room for such things,” Adeeb said.

Officials from the Tourism Ministry were unavailable for comment at the time of press.

On Thursday, about 50 employees from the international airport in Seenu atoll Gan protested over a new salary structure which they said would result in lower pay than before. They stopped protesting when management agreed to return to the previous wage structure.


Gan International Airport to commence reclamation work for runway expansion

Dredging equipment to reclaim land needed to expand the main runway at Gan International Airport in Addu City is expected to arrive at the site today to begin work, local media has reported.

A dredger brought to the country to begin the work was now in the process of being transported to the airport site in Gan despite previous “difficulties” in moving the equipment, according to Sun Online.

Shahid Ali, Managing Director of the Addu International Airport (AIA) company overseeing the project, told local media that contractors would bring the dredger in between Gan and Vilingili. He said the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) was expected to provide approval for the process today.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed is then expected to officially inaugurate the dredging work this evening, according to Sun Online.

AIA contracted Dubai-based Gulf Cobla to undertake the dredging and reclamation component of developing Gan International Airport earlier this year.

Meanwhile, a UK-based company called Lagan has previously won the main contract to develop the airport, with AIA outsourcing the additional dredging work required to be completed before the main runway expansion can begin.

AIA is itself a joint venture formed by the Gan Airport Company Ltd (GACL), Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) and the STO.


Addu International Airport Company outsources dredging and reclamation of Gan International Airport

Addu International Airport Company (AIA) has contracted a Dubai-based group to undertake the dredging and reclamation component of developing Gan International Airport, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig said today.

He confirmed a company called Gulf Cobla had been awarded the $11.7 million (MVR 180 million) project, which will include land reclamation to build seaplane terminals.  The contract will also include work on constructing revetments on the reclaimed land.  Revetments are barricades used to prevent aircraft from overshooting a runway.

“I had a word with [AIA and the State Trading Organisation (STO)] Managing Director Shahid Ali this morning and he said the project is going well. However, some people have misinterpreted the situation because a contract was given to Lagan and another was awarded to Gulf Cobla,” Mayor Sodig told Minivan News.

AIA is itself a joint venture formed by the Gan Airport Company Ltd (GACL), Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) and the STO.

Sodig explained that a UK company called Lagan had won the main contract to develop the airport, but added that it was AIA who had outsourced additional dredging work that was required to be completed before the main runway expansion could begin.

AIA and STO Managing Director Shahid Ali confirmed to Minivan News today that: “AIA contracted directly with Gulf Cobla to conduct the dredging and land reclamation components.”

Shahid previously told local media that Gulf Cobla’s segment of the project would be completed within eight months and that it will facilitate seaplane services being provided from Gan International Airport.

“Dredging will take about eight months. We predict that the physical work can begin within one month of signing this contract,” he said.

Shahid said he expected the overall airport development project to be complete by September 2014.

AIA is also conducting negotiations with Sri Lankan Airlines, Bangkok Airways, and Air Asia to increase the number of international flights from the airport,” he added.

Gulf Cobla’s Managing Director Joost Post has also made assurances to media that the project would be completed within eight months, noting that the company had previously conducted four projects in the Maldives.

“Southern gateway to the world”

Mayor Sodig today said that the airport development would provide a huge boost to  transport links in the country.

“The airport will start seaplane operations to resorts in the Southern Atolls. Once the Gan Airport is developed, it will be the southern gateway to other parts of the world,” Sodig declared.

Gan Airport’s main runway needs a one kilometre extension toward the northwest and it will also be resurfaced with asphalt, Sodig explained.

“The seaplane base will be developed on the western side of the island,” he added.

“The shallow lagoon across from the western beach will be dredged and the sand will then be used to develop the seaplane strip and reclaim land for the main runway.  The area of the former Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Commander’s residence will be used to develop the seaplane terminal.”

Airport development controversy

Thirty percent of the AIA was sold in November 2012 to tourism pioneer ‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef’s Kasa Holdings to raise finances to develop the Gan airport in Addu City.

Goverment-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader MP Gasim Ibrahim previously denied in parliament that he had spoken against the sale of shares of AIA with the intention of buying shares himself. He claimed he had done so “in the best interests of Addu and the country.”

JP MP Alhan Fahmy added that he also wished to see the Addu airport developed, but was concerned with how the sale of shares had been carried out. Fahmy said that 30 percent of shares being sold off for MVR 60 million (US$3.89 million) was “nothing but daylight robbery”.

Meanwhile, a number of MPs from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) stated at the time that the party supported the concept of privatisation, adding that the development of the Addu airport was originally an MDP initiated plan.  However, the opposition MPs also expressed concern over how the bidding process had been carried out.

During a November 2012 press briefing, STO Shahid Ali stated that contrary to general speculation, the airport had not been “sold”, but rather shares from the company AIA that had been sold to KASA Holdings.

He also refuted allegations of corruption, saying that KASA Holdings had been given higher priority since it was a local company and that all proceedings had gone through the bidding process in a matter which was completely free of any corruption.

Addu City Council previously released a statement welcoming the signing of the contract which they said would lead to the development of the Addu airport.

The statement further noted “the importance of leaving politics aside and for the good of citizens in letting the venture bring positive changes to Addu’s economy.”

The MDP also released a statement in November urging “not to let political feuds, political needs and power play interfere in important work directly related to the development of Addu City citizens, and generally all Maldivian citizens.”

The statement also condemned Gasim’s threats to sack Shahid Ali, stating “This party calls on political leaders to refrain from making unlawful threats through the greed for power and political wants.”


Government denies Israeli jet landed in Addu

The government has denied reports in the media that a private Israeli jet carrying tourists to Shangri-la Villigilli Resort landed in Addu City this week.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza dismissed the claim today as “completely false.”

“The government’s stand is that [the claim] is a lie,” he asserted, suggesting that the rumours originated from staff at the airport.

Two officials at the Addu International Airport Company Ltd (AIACL) told Minivan News that the private jet departed yesterday after spending four days at Gan International Airport.

An airport official told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that the Gulfstream Aerospace G200 flight (4X-CLL) arrived on Sunday with tourists from the Jewish state, and had been parked at the Gan Airport for four days prior to its departure in the morning yesterday.

Banning Israeli flights to the Maldives was among five demands made at a ‘mega-protest’ on December 23, organised by a coalition of eight parties and religious NGOs to ‘Defend Islam’ against the allegedly liberal policies of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.

Following the change of government on February 7, the ruling coalition-dominated parliament passed a resolution on April 25 preventing Israeli national airline El Al from operating scheduled flights to the Maldives.

El Al had applied to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in May 2011 requesting permission to fly to the country starting in December 2011, prompting the religious conservative Adhaalath Party to warn of a potential terrorist attack “due to the commencement of Zionist Israel’s flight operations to Maldives.”

Adhaalath severed its coalition agreement with the then-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in September, soon after the Transport Ministry granted a licence to El Al to begin operations to Maldives.

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed were not responding at time of press.

“First Israeli flight”

Speaking to Minivan News, an operations officer at Gan International Airport explained that a large number of private jets routinely fly to Addu City with “rich tourists.” The official stressed that authorisation for the flight to land in the Maldives would have been granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Officials from the department were unavailable for comment at the time of press.

Community news site Addu Online meanwhile reported that according to an AIACL official, the private jet arrived on Sunday from Israel after transiting in another country.

The community website claimed that jet was operating under a license granted to the Israeli Amateur Radio Club. According to Addu Online, the private jet was the first flight from Israel to land at the Gan airport.

Speaking to Minivan News in April last year, former Transport Minister Adhil Saleem defended the MDP government’s decision to authorise Israeli flights, arguing that it would create opportunities for both Israeli tourists to visit the country as well as facilitate pilgrimages for Maldivians to the al-Aqsa mosques in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam.

“Some Maldivians see Israel as controversial over the issue of Palestine. Yet Palestine accepts Israel as a state, benchmarking the point that I don’t see why we should not allow these flights.”

Saleem said that the Maldives already played host to a number of Israeli tourists at its resorts and that authorising Israeli airlines would allow for a greater influx of guests to the country’s tourism industry.


First charter flight from Mumbai brings 107 tourists to Addu

An inaugural charter flight from Mumbai, India to Seenu Atoll Gan arrived in the country on Sunday with 107 tourists, reports Haveeru.

The Kingfisher charter flight was organised by Indian travel agency Make My Trip in collaboration with the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).

The tourists were greeted upon arrival by Home Minister Mohamed Shihab, Indian Ambassador B M Muley and senior officials of MTDC and Gan Airport Company in a backdrop of traditional boduberu music.

While over a 1,000 Indian tourists have booked holidays at the Herethera resort, according to MTDC, the Kingfisher charter flights will operate bi-weekly on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The travel agency meanwhile revealed that their goal was to bring over 6,000 Indian tourists to the Maldives – Indians currently account for just three percent of visitors to the country.

Previous charter flights from Italy and Germany introduced after the opening of Herethera in 2007 were short-lived and cancelled prematurely.