South Asia Regional Environmental Security Forum begins in Kurumba

The South Asia Regional Environmental Security Forum – held by US Pacific Command in partnership with Maldives National Defence Force – began today at Kurumba resort.

The event – which will continue until Thursday (June 5) – is the fourth of its kind, aiming to develop awareness and partnerships in environmental security throughout the Asia Pacific region.

Representative from both the Maldives government and around the globe will gather to promote regional cooperation on the topics of water security, waste management, resource protection, and energy.

The event will include a tour of nearby Thulusdhoo Island, where attendees will be shown examples of coastal erosion and waste management issues in the Maldives.

“The results of the event will assist participating groups to enhance existing environmental security documents and procedures and develop new ones to adapt to and mitigate climate change,” explained a US embassy press release today.


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.”


Disruptive strikes discredits tourism says MATATO, mistreating workers does same, says TEAM

The temporary closure of the Kurumba Maldives resort following three days of strike action by staff has had a roll-on impact on local tour operators and travel agents, according to a statement from the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO).

Most staff at Kurumba had returned to work yesterday following an ultimatum by resort management and the arrest of 19 staff on charges of intimidation and vandalism. The strikers were complaining of management inaction over poor staff accommodation, food, unfair distribution of service charges and staff discrimination.

MATATO warned disruptive strike incidents “could potentially discredit tourism in the Maldives”, and that it was not inconceivable that the Maldives tourism industry “could fade away as happened in Bali [following the 2005 bombings].”

“Such disputes should be solved through discussions, in a way that does not affect the guests,” the MATATO statement said, adding that disruption compounded an already “low time for tourism”.

“There should be no ground for any party to reduce visitors and businesses in this country to a state of fear and terror, whoever may be at fault.

MATATO’s concern echoes that of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), which on Monday stated that “there should be no grounds for any party to reduce visitors and businesses in this country to a state of fear and terror, whoever may be at fault.”

MATATO also said it was “very concerned” that the President of the Tourism Employment Association (TEAM), Maldivian Democratic Party MP Ahmed Easa, “worked to heat up the situation instead of trying to cool it down.”

“As the president of TEAM is an MP and a political figure, it would help solve the issue if he chose either to be the president of TEAM, or an MP,” MATATO said.

Easa acknowledged concern about the politicisation of his position.

“I believe I should not be the President of TEAM,” he said. “But if I left, who would replace me? In this country there are very few people with the courage to fight for labour rights.”

“My phone is always ringing from resort employees, and we have 100 cases ongoing in courts ranging from the labour tribunal to the Supreme Court. I am spending $2000 a month on TEAM and working 20 hours a day, because many resort workers are not paid enough to save up for things like lawyers.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Easa said he was unhappy with the way the police and government handled the Kurumba strike, claiming that arresting the strikers was “against human rights, labour laws and the constitution of the Maldives.”

“Employees have the right to strike – all international laws allow it – and police have no right to arrest them,” Easa said.

19 striking staff were removed from the island after police received reports of management intimidation and vandalism.

“I’ve monitored more that 22 strikes in the resort industry and my experience is that in every strike, the hotel tries to get police to interfere by making [the strikers] angry so they break the law,” Easa claimed.

“I have seen all these tricks. The police actually advise management to do this and push [the strikers] to make mistakes.”

He rejected claims by the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) and MATATO that strikes by resort staff would discredit tourism in the Maldives, arguing that poor treatment of workers was already damaging the industry’s image.

“Most tourists to this country come from the EU where labour rights are very much protected,” he said. “I have spent 15 years in the hotel industry, and I am very confident that tourists from the EU do not want to spend a single hour in a hotel that does not provide labour rights to its employees, pay their salaries properly or distribute service charges fairly, and accommodates them in a zoo with 10-15 people to a room.”

Tourists, he urged, should “take more of an interest in how resorts treat their staff.”

Universal Resorts’ board member on MATI, Visha Mahir, said she would not comment on the issues raised by the strike until the release of a formal statement by the group tomorrow.


Kurumba staff return to work after 19 arrested

Staff at Kurumba Resort have ceased striking and returned to work following the arrest of 19 staff members on charges of vandalism and intimidation.

Almost all the resort staff have been on strike for the last three days complaining of management inaction over poor staff accommodation, food, unfair distribution of service charges and staff discrimination. Rising tension prompted management to move around 250 guests to other resorts run by the Universal group yesterday, while other visitors chose to depart the country.

Assistant Human Resources Manager at Kurumba, Ibrahim Hassan, told Minivan News that the striking staff were last night given a written ultimatum to report to duty by 9:30pm, “otherwise they would need to continue the strike elsewhere as management would not allow it to continue on the [privately-owned] island.”

“Many staff obeyed and informed HR they were ready to return to work; others were not willing  to start work but ultimately they all gave up the strike,” Ibrahim said, adding that four staff members had chosen to resign and leave the island while 19 remained in police custody.

“Management is now reviewing all the issues raised [by the strikers] and believes many are valid,” he said.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed yesterday that police arrived on the island to monitor the situation after receiving reports that management had been threatened. A door was also damaged in a staff room.

“The staff decided to cease the strike after police and management held negotiations,’’ said Shiyam today.

Mohamed Zakir, Vice President of the Tourism Employment Association of the Maldives (TEAM) alleged that staff decided to halt the strike “after police and management threatened staff that they would be terminated from their jobs and arrested.’’

The 19 staff arrested were leaders of the strike, Zakir claimed.

“There was also a riot squad on the island,’’ he claimed. “Management and police demanded staff end the strike and return to work. Most of them agreed, but four of them did not want to stop and are still on strike.’’

Shiyam claimed police “only assisted” negotiations to resolve the stand-off, after talks between staff and management reached a deadlock yesterday, “and did not threaten staff.”

Meanwhile, radio station SunFM today reported Chairman of Universal Mohamed Umar Maniku as saying that the three-day strike had caused the company a loss of more than two million dollars. He also told SunFM that bookings had been cancelled due to the strike.

Ibrahim would not comment on the financial impact caused by the strike.

Sim Mohamed Ibrahim from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said yesterday that the organisation was concerned that “an investment of millions of dollars can be crippled and held at ransom within a few hours by its own employees, whose grievances may or may not be real,” adding that this had occurred in several resorts.

Tourism, namely the country’s 90-odd resort islands, indirectly contributes to 70 percent of the country’s GDP.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referenced the Chairperson of Universal as Ali Mohamed Maniku. This has been corrected to Mohamed Umar Maniku.


Kurumba management evacuates guests as strike talks deadlock

An ongoing strike at Kurumba Maldives resort near Male’ has prompted management to move the island’s guests to other resorts run by the Universal Group, while other visitors have chosen to leave the country.

More than 150 Maldivian and expatriate staff are on strike after complaining of poor staff facilities, low wages, unfair distribution of service charges and discrimination between local and foreign staff.

Assistant Human Resources Manager Ibrahim Hassan told Minivan News that no staff were currently working at the resort, as “almost all” were now involved in the strike action. Nearly 250 guests had been relocated to other resorts or had cut short their holidays and left the country, he said.

“At the moment [the strikers] are very calm. They are standing in front of the Human Resources [office] and not coming out of the staff area,” Ibrahim said.

“Yesterday it became serious when they came out of the staff area and threatened senior management. Some senior managers have [subsequently] left the island.”

A third meeting between staff and management yesterday failed to resolve the deadlock, he noted. No staff member had yet been dismissed, he added.

Police have meanwhile arrived on the island to monitor the situation. Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said a police team was sent after police received reports that management were being threatened.

A staff member on strike told Minivan News that the workers decided to continue the strike after management “did not give us an adequate answer” by the workers’ deadline of 4:00pm yesterday.

“Nobody is on duty and guests have complained about the poor services, so the management decided to transfer all the guests to other resorts,” he said.

Striking staff complain to senior managers

During the last meeting resort management had given the staff a written reply to their demands, promising the construction of a new staff accommodation block in September and the formation of a staff committee representing various departments.

“We have four main concerns: wages, service charge [payments], food and accommodation,” he said. “For food and accommodation they gave a pleasant answer. But regarding wages and the service charge, they could not give an adequate answer – they said they were revising the salaries but did not know when they could increase them.”

When staff said the response was inadequate, management replied they were unable to alter the decision, he said.

“That response caused outrage among staff and some of the senior management officials were forced to leave the island,’’ he added. “Police came to the island to control the situation.’’

The staff claimed they would strike until management fulfilled their demands, he said.

Sim Mohamed Ibrahim from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) described the industrial action at Kurumba as “a clear reflection of what little protection is provided to investors and businesses under the present laws pertaining to the conduct of business in the country.”

“The reality of the situation is that an investment of millions of dollars can be crippled andheld at ransom within a few hours by its own employees, whose grievances may or may not be real,” Sim said, adding that this situation had recently occurred in several resorts.

“The situation in Kurumba is a case in point. On Sunday August 22 the resort occupancy [percentage] was in the 80’s. Towards evening that day occupancy had fallen to less than 20% percent,” Sim said. “Tourists, tour operators and senior management have been too terrified to remain in the resort, and today the resort is empty.”

“There should be no ground for any party to reduce visitors and businesses in this country to a state of fear and terror, whoever may be at fault. The government must provide tourists and investors with adequate protection,” Sim said.

The Universal-run resort near Male’ is one of the oldest private resort islands in the Maldives, reopening as a five-star luxury resort in 2004 following renovation.


Kurumba workers on strike over poor staff facilities

More than 150 Maldivian and expatriate staff working at the Kurumba Maldives resort are on strike, complaining of poor staff facilities.

The Universal-run resort near Male’ is one of the oldest private resort islands in the Maldives, reopening as a five-star luxury resort in 2004 following renovation.

A striking staff member told Minivan News that the 157 staff were striking over “low wages, pathetic accommodation, awful food, communication barriers between staff and management, and discrimination between local and foreign staff.”

“We have to sleep 10 people to one room, and we do not even have pillow covers,’’ he claimed, adding that the resort’s management had promised to upgrade staff facilities three months ago but had not done so to the extent demanded.

The Indian and Bangladeshi workers at the resort were “fully supportive” of the strike, along with the Maldivian workers, the source said.

“Only a few people are not taking part in the strike,’’ he added.

The strike was declared after a petition reportedly signed by 157 staff working on the island was presented to management, he said.

“In the petition we gave them a time limit and stated that we did not just want a verbal reply, however they failed to reply to us,’’ he said. “So we began the strike. We do not have confidence in the [resort] management, and the staff do not wish to speak to them. We want to speak with the Directors of Universal.’’

The striking workers had met with senior officials at Universal twice, he added, “and this evening they said they will give us a final response.”

Vice President of the Tourism Employment Association of Maldives (TEAM), Mauroof Zakir, said staff at Kurumba were demanding “very basic facilities that the management should provide.”

“Recently some Kurumba staff were dismissed after they sent management a letter with the intention of bringing the issues to their attention,” Zakir claimed.

Management at Kurumba Maldives declined to comment when contacted by Minivan News.

The story initially appeared on Velidhoo and the Maldives Resort Workers (MRW) blog.

“Despite catering for diplomats, prominent businessmen, and generally to an affluent clientèle, the resort has a tall list of [staff] grievances,” MRW wrote. “It is quite true that the staff of KV are low paid, poorly fed, and unlovingly accommodated. Then there is the little issue of over working staff without overtime pay which is brazenly against the labour law and accepted norms of business. The situation was quite the same for 38 years and now it appears the staff are protesting these conditions.”

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.

A person familiar with the matter told Minivan News that the four men, who were ‘villa hosts’ at the luxury resort in Addu Atoll, took their PlayStation to a vacant guest room during their lunch break, “double locked the door and put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.”

The 60 staff who signed and presented a petition to the management demanding the villa hosts’ jobs be reinstated were dismissed and escorted to a nearby island by police, leading 157 workers to declare themselves on strike.

The strike was broken when resort management dismissed the 10 strike leaders and invited the remaining staff to return to work.

In February staff at the Centara Grand Island Resort in North Ari Atol held a strike complaining they were not receiving the service charges agreed to them by management, claiming that the resort had persisted in giving them a lower amount because “room revenue was very low.”  The resort increased the service charge allocated to staff after a representative from Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports visited the island.

Image: Maldives Resort Workers


Maldivians ready to open up the economy, says president

Maldivians are starting to see the benefits of opening up the economy for private investments, said President Mohamed Nasheed, speaking at the Regional Export Awards presentation ceremony of Engineering Export Promotion Council (EEPC) of India, held at Kurumba Maldives yesterday evening.

President Nasheed said until recently the Maldivian economy has been very centralised and heavily regulated, and this had “prevented growth, repelled investment and thwarted people’s aspirations.”

The president mentioned the reforms in the Indian economy, which he said were strengthening the country’s economy and lifting millions out of poverty.

Highlighting the importance of foreign investment, he mentioned the benefits of the agreement with Apollo Hospitals of India, which are investing US$125 million to reform Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

He said the government has successfully attracted foreign investors to invest in housing, electricity and energy programmes, and how private investors are at the forefront of the new transport system that will connect all inhabited islands with ferry services.

The Maldives Partnership Forum IV, a conference giving international investors the chance to visit the country and invest in its development, will be held in March.