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.”


Maldives remains on US State Department’s human trafficking watch list for second year

The Maldives remains on the US State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List for human trafficking, a list signifying an increasing number of victims and little evidence of increased efforts to tackle the problem.

The report comes days after the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) was called to temporarily take over the front line work of the Immigration Department and Human Resources Ministry pending an investigation into corruption and falsification of work permits.

Migrant workers from Bangladesh and to a lesser extent, India, are being subjected to forced labour in the Maldives, primarily in the construction and service sectors, while women and girls are also being subjected to sex trafficking, the report said.

An unknown number of the up to 110,000 foreign workers in the country – a third of the population – “face conditions indicative of forced labor: fraudulent recruitment practices, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, or debt bondage,” the report noted, adding that 30,000 workers had no legal status in the country.

Bangladeshi nationals were especially vulnerable to labour trafficking, the report stated, citing “diplomatic sources” as claiming that half the Bangladeshi workers in the country had arrived illegally, having paid between US$1000 and US$4000 in ‘recruitment fees’.

“In addition to Bangladeshis and Indians, some migrants from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal reportedly experienced recruitment fraud before arriving in the Maldives,” the report noted.

“Trafficking offenders in the Maldives usually fall into three groups: families that subject domestic servants to forced labor; employment agents who bring low-skilled migrant workers to the Maldives under false terms of employment and upon payment of high fees for purposes of forced labor; and employers who subject the migrants to conditions of forced labor upon arrival,” the report revealed.

The State Department reiterated claims from the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) that female migrant workers were also being trapped by employers who were using threats and intimidation to prevent them from leaving.

More commonly, “Recruitment agents collude with employers and agents in the Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labor of migrant workers.”

Domestic trafficking was also observed, whereby “some underage Maldivian children are transported to Male’ from other islands for forced domestic service, and a small number sexually abused by the families with whom they stayed. This is a corruption of the widely acknowledged practice where families send Maldivian children to live with a host family in Male for educational purposes.”

The US State Department’s report was critical of the Maldives for human trafficking enforcement in the country over the reporting period, and noted that it had not investigated or prosecuted any trafficking-related offences despite the scale of the problem.

“The government did not investigate or prosecute any labor trafficking cases, but is reportedly investigating two child prostitution cases,” it noted.

It was especially critical of the government’s treatment of those found to be victims of trafficking: “The Maldivian government did not ensure that victims of trafficking received access to necessary assistance during the reporting period. The government did not develop or implement formal procedures for proactively identifying victims, and did not identify any specific cases of trafficking. The Maldives did not provide access to services such as shelter, counseling, medical care, or legal aid to foreign or Maldivian victims of trafficking. The government did not conduct any anti-trafficking or educational campaigns, nor did it take any measures to reduce demand for forced labor within the country.”

The report noted that the Maldives’ general policy for dealing with trafficking victims “was to deport them.”

“Authorities did not encourage victims to participate in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking offenders. Due to a lack of comprehensive victim identification procedures, the Maldives may not have ensured that expatriates subjected to forced labor and prostitution were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalised for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.”

The report also observed that while the Maldivian Constitution outlawed forced labour and slavery, a person legally married to a minor was exempt from the heavy penalties of the Child Sexual Abuse Act passed in 2009, and that “none of the offences specified in the legislation, including child prostitution, would be considered a crime.”


The report did highlight the ratification by cabinet by a Human Trafficking Plan in February 2011, but observed that this had no law enforcement component, and failed to distinguish people smuggling from trafficking.

Furthermore, a blacklist of 16 employment agencies and private companies by the Labour Relations Authority (LRA) showed no sign of being enforce.

A “rapid assessment” on human trafficking commissioned by HRCM in 2010 had not been finalised, the State Department report observed.

The report urged the government to develop procedures whereby government officials could identify victims of trafficking, and provide them with access to services for victims – particularly translators. It also urged greater efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offences.

The final recommendation was “take steps to ensure that employers and labor brokers are not abusing labor recruitment or sponsorship processes in order to subject migrant workers to forced labor” – one that appears to have been preempted by this week’s corruption probe of Immigration Department and Human Resources Ministry.