Union raises job security fears following strike action at Kanuhura resort

The job security of almost 100 staff at the Kanuhura resort in Lhaviyani Atoll is in doubt after they participated in strike action at the property this week, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) has alleged.

TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir claimed the job security of about 90 members of staff who took part in industrial action at the resort on Monday was uncertain after they were requested to take paid leave away from the site next week.

Legal representatives for Kanuhura’s parent company, the Sun Resorts Group, told Minivan News that the company was attempting to resolve a salary dispute with its staff and had sought assistance from both the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and the Labour Relations Authority (LRA) to liaise on the issue.  The company added that with salary negotiations ongoing it was also trying to maintain operations at the resort, which had been impacted by a number of employees failing to report to duty over the last two days.

Team Secretary General Maurouf claimed that staff at Kanuhura staff last month gathered at the property to demand a rise in monthly wages to US$250 per month – an amount he claimed to be in line with other nearby resorts. Minivan News understands that staff also requested an increase in service charge payments, which was currently being considered by Sun Resorts Group management.

According to TEAM, staff at Kanuhura were earning an average basic wage of between US$175 – US$200 per month.  Staff had been told by company officials they would be receiving an increase in salary by January 20.

The proposed salary increase of between US$25 to US$30 was however deemed insufficient by the majority of staff who had demanded a wage increase, Mauroof claimed.

“Most do not want to accept this increment and there was a work stoppage involving an estimated 95 staff,” he said.

Mauroof added that resort management had since requested that staff involved in this week’s strike action take paid leave of seven days – a request he claimed had been met with suspicion by employees.

“Right now [the resort] does not have accommodation to hire new staff. I do not think they will reinstate the existing workers once they leave,” he claimed.

While not organised by TEAM, Mauroof said the union backed the stance taken by staff in the pay dispute.

“Staff have done everything according to regulations. They raised their concerns last month and wrote to management about the matter,” he said.

Mauroof said there had also been an isolated incident in which a fire had occurred at two guest bungalows on the property, an incident he said was thought to have been an accident.

Replacement allegations

Hussain Rasheed, a senior butler who claims to have worked at the resort for eight and a half years, told Minivan News that some 30 to 40 staff who had taken part in strikes at the resort this week had decided against continuing their employment. He claimed these staff, who were promised a package of three months in wages and a month in service charge payments by cheque, were instead requesting cash payments before leaving the property.

Rasheed also alleged that while remaining staff had apologised for their role in the strike action and wished to stay in their positions, all staff who had taken part in the week’s protests had been requested to take paid leave for at least four days. However, he claimed that no assurances were given that staff would be able to return to their jobs at a later date.

Rasheed alleged that resort management were already in the process of bringing expatriate workers to the island over the last two days to take up roles at the resort.

“They have brought 35 expatriates to the resort from Male’, and they have told me [the imported staff] are being given a basic salary of US$200,” he said.

Rasheed claimed that after having spoken with the new workers, they had admitted to not knowing where their passports or documentation were, and questioned the legality of their employment status.

He claimed that issues had been raised with the Maldives Police Service and the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Kanuhura response

Speaking to Minivan News today, a legal representative for Sun Resorts Group – who asked not to be named – said workers have taken part in industrial action at the resort last month over calls for a review of wages and service charges.

The representative said that officials from both the Tourism Ministry and the LRA were once again being invited to oversee discussions between both parties.

“The had demanded an increase in salary and service charge payments. The company agreed by January 20 to implement a wage increase. On the matter of service charge payments, we said we would respond to staff by March [2013],” the source said.

“The company’s HR Manager who was here yesterday spoke with staff, who did not accept the proposal offered. They once again went on strike and we have asked the LRA and Tourism Ministry [for assistance].”

While negotiations with state officials and staff ongoing, the legal spokesperson said the company did not wish to discuss the numbers of staff involved in the strikes or the wage rises being offered.

The source also declined to comment on individual accusations raised by staff concerning attempts to employ expatriate staff to take their roles.

“In cases such as this there are likely to be a number of allegations raised. We do not wish to comment on them individually,” the source claimed. “Right now we are trying to manage the resort with what we have. There are about 30 to 50 staff not reporting to work.”

The legal source said that despite efforts to try and manage with reduced staff some operations had been adversely affected as a result of the strikes.

“Some guests have registered complaints with us,” the company representative added.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor nad Deputy tourist head Mohamed Maleeh Jamal  were not respong to calls from Minvan News at the time of press.

Freedom of assembly

Under the new ‘Freedom of Assembly Bill’ recently passed by parliament, demonstrations outside a number of public places including resorts and airports, have been outlawed.

The regulation also states that although demonstrators do not need to seek authorisation ahead of a gathering, police must be then notified of any pre-planned demonstrations before they commence.


DQP submits bill on industrial action: two days notice required for strikes

The Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has submitted a bill to parliament regulating industrial action conducted by employees in the Maldives.

If passed, the bill requires employees to give 48 hours notice to employers before protesting, and restricts the timing of strikes to between 8:00am and 4:00pm.

“The employees can only boycott their work for a specified duration. For instance, for 24 or 48 hours,” DQP Deputy Leader and MP Riyaz Rasheed explained to newspaper Miadhu.

The bill comes a week after strike action at Kurumba Maldives led to the evacuation of guests and the arrest of 19 staff by police for intimidation and vandalism.

A statement by the resort’s parent company, Universal Enterprises, deplored the action and alleged strike organisers “sent employees armed with makeshift weapons to blockade the main kitchen and physically threaten staff serving meals to guests”.

The Kurumba strike was the most recent of several resort strikes this year. In April staff at the Shangri-La Villingili Resort went on strike after four workers were dismissed for allegedly playing on a PlayStation in a vacant villa, while in February staff at the Centara Grand Island Resort in North Ari Atoll held a strike complaining they were not receiving the service charges agreed to them by management.

Shangri-La Villingili eventually dismissed the 10 strike leaders and invited the remaining staff to return to work, while  Centara Grand increased the service charge allocated to staff after a representative from Ministry of Human Resources visited the island.

As most resorts operate on privately-owned islands, the nature of the sector makes the legality of industrial action contentious – while the Constitution provides the right to strike, workers cannot simply picket outside the factory gates and invariably protest on resort property, running into further conflict with management conscious of image in a highly service-oriented industry.

“MATI believes employees should not strike on resort [property] – this is the shop floor,” said Mohamed Ibrahim ‘Sim’ from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI). “It has to be somewhere else. People do not understand that resort islands are standalone communities that must produce their own water and other amenities. A hotel in the city of Male’ does not face such disruption to essential services.”

Sim questioned the practicality of restricting  the hours of strike action, but acknowledged the bill’s objective of requiring notice for any stop-work action “and only after following established grievance procedures.”

Maldives Resort Workers (MRW), an active community of resort workers campaigning for fair treatment in the tourism industry, condemned the DQP bill as “effectively relegating protesting and demonstrations against working conditions in resorts to the era [of the former government].”

The introduction of a notice period would give employers “ample time to serve warning letters, suspensions, dismissals or anything to prevent a strike,” MRW claimed.