Universal issues statement “deeply deploring” actions of strike organisers

Universal Enterprises has issued a statement announcing the return of guests to the Kurumba Maldives resort from August 26, following last week’s industrial action.

The statement said the company “deeply deplored” the actions of strike organisers at Kurumba last week, claiming they “sent employees armed with makeshift weapons to blockade the main kitchen and physically threaten staff serving meals to guests”.

Staff at the resort – the first in the Maldives – declared themselves on strike early last week, complaining of inadequate staff accommodation and food, discrimination and unfair distribution of service charges.

“As a direct result of the violent acts witnessed by guests at the resort, all guests at Kurumba Maldives vacated the resort, while a number of booking cancellations were made, and Kurumba Maldives operated with zero guest occupancy between August 23 and 25,” Universal said in its statement.

Universal claimed that striking employees had been acting “under significant misconceptions, particularly in respect of some crucial aspects relating to computation of service charge and wage policies.”

“However, despite having key financial staff on standby from late evening on August 21 until the early evening of August 23, Universal was prevented by the organisers of the action from providing accurate and detailed information to the employees.”

“The organisers of the action continued [a] pattern of threatening behaviour together with unruly demonstrations directly in front of guest areas, when the Universal delegation presented Universal’s promised response in the presence of a representative from the Ministry of Tourism and three officers from the Labour Relations Authority,” the statement read.

“Despite Universal taking immediate action to resolve the matters of contention, and furthermore despite Universal’s pledge to thoroughly investigate all employee complaints, the organisers of he strike took just ten minutes to unilaterally reject all of Universal’s proposals and incite roting on the resort,” the company said.

“Despite the rioting that took place, Universal persisted in its attempts to resolve the situation peacefully. However, despite repeated requests, and in particular attempts by the governmental officers to persuade them to meet for discussions, the employees refused to commit to a peaceful resolution of the dispute. As a result, both the Tourism Ministry and the Labour Relations Authority withdrew their representatives from the resort.”

The protest was resolved peacefully on August 23 after Universal withdrew its consent for employees to strike on the privately-owned island. A team of police then mediated the return to work of the majority of employees, while four resigned. 19 staff were taken into police custody at Dhoonidhoo pending an investigation into intimidation and vandalism. The Criminal Court last week ruled that those staff should not leave Male’ for a period of five days during the police investigation.

Universal claimed that during the rioting, “and in most instances in full view of the guests, senior management staff were pursued through guest areas by mobs, physically assaulted, received death threats and warnings of physical dismemberment, and generally put in fear for their lives.”

“Doors were battered down, and attempts made to prevent vessels from departing the island. Universal also notes that the three officers of the Maldives Police Service then on the island were manhandled, threatened with physical harm, subjected to gross verbal abuse, and even physically obstructed in the execution of their duties. In addition, the representative from the Tourism Ministry and the officers of the Labour Relations Authority were subjected to harassment and grossly intimidating behaviour, threats and verbal abuse.”

President of the Tourism Employment Association of the Maldives (TEAM), Ahmed Easa, who is also an MP of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), said claims of guests being intimidated and staff deploying makeshift weaponry “were nonsense”.

“All we tried to do was collect staff to sit down in an open area, and not even use a hotel building or property. These claims are total nonsense and an attempt to place blame on us,” Easa claimed.

He acknowledged that a staff member had chased the secretary of the resort’s General Manager, “after she used bad words”.

“Police were there the whole time,” he said, claiming that allegations of three police officers being manhandled by strikers were “probably rubbish”.

Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam would not confirm whether police officers had been obstructed and manhandled, but noted that police “had received these complaints and are investigating the matter.”