The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) has announced a list demands targeted at government authorities and have threatened to boycott the upcoming presidential elections if workers rights are not protected.
TEAM and the Maldives Port Workers Union (MPWU) organized a joint concert event near the tsunami monument in Male’ to celebrate International Labour Day (May 1) – also referred to as ‘May Day’ – and show support for workers’ human rights.
During the event, which featured three Maldivian rock bands and a bodu beru (traditional drumming) group, TEAM highlighted four demands for tourism industry employees working at resorts and on safari boats:
1) receive 99 percent “equal and fair distribution of service charges with transparency”;
2) have Maldivians fill 80 percent of the industry’s jobs;
3) have the Freedom of Assembly Act amended to remove clause 24(7)b which bans certain gatherings, effectively making strikes illegal;
4) receive a minimum wage of US$600 for tourism sector employees.
“There is no reason for us to work if our human rights are not protected,” TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News today (May 2).
“The government has not taken any responsibility, they don’t care what happens [to workers]. It’s all about power for them,” he added.
“There are 15,000 Maldivian employees in the tourism sector and they are the breadwinners for their families. As family leaders, they will listen to what we have to say, so if we call for a voter boycott that’s about 75,000 votes we can control,” claimed Zakir.
“Current legislation mandates 99 percent of service charges be distributed among employees, however many companies are not following the law,” he stated.
“The majority of workers only receive about 500 MVR (US$32) to 1000 MVR (US$65) in service charge tips. It’s totally rubbish,” he added.
Zakir explained that foreign migrant workers hold 70 percent of tourism industry jobs (the legal maximum is approximately 50 percent but is widely unenforced), while over 30 percent of young people are unemployed – approximately 40,000 people.
“The Maldives is in a deep recession. The current government policy requiring 45 percent of tourism jobs be reserved for Maldivians is totally wrong,” Zakir declared.
“Cheap labourers don’t demand their rights be upheld. They are willing to work 14 to 16 hour days. These are slavery style operations,” he said.
Zakir explained that management in the tourism industry often cultivated frustration between Maldivian workers and foreign workers as a divide and conquer strategy.
“TEAM is not only for locals, we support migrant workers’ rights as well,” he added.
Regarding TEAM’s third demand, Zakir also spoke about the strike ban preventing groups of more than one person from gathering at resorts, on safari boats, or on industrial islands.
“This is a clear violation of human rights,” he declared.
The call for the minimum wage to be increased is another fundamental issue affecting quality of life, with the average salary actually being between US$152 and US$350, according to Zakir.
“This is not enough to live given the high cost of goods, rent, and inflation,” he said.
He claimed the government’s average figure of US$400 was “totally wrong”, while TEAM had at members at all resorts with access to actual salary information.
Although some resorts pay a higher minimum wage and percentage of service charges, workers’ financial security is still at risk if occupancy drops or anything unexpected happens at the resort that would affect the service charge amount, explained Zakir.
A petition with the list of TEAM demands is being circulated to all the resorts in the Maldives and will then be submitted to the relevant government authorities – President’s Office, Speaker of Parliament, and the Tourism Ministry. The next step will be to establish a timeframe to conduct negotiations.
“We will make them listen and talk,” Zakir stated.
“The government needs to legally implement the [International Labour Organisation (ILO)] international conventions, they’ve agreed to uphold,” he added.