Resort giant rejects dismissed local workers’ allegations of foreigner bias

Hospitality giant Conrad Hotels and Resorts has rejected accusations concerning its treatment of a group of Maldivian workers made redundant earlier this month at its Rangali Island Resort, claiming the site adheres to both company and Maldivian labour laws when dealing with staff.

Responding to accusations made by a group of 29 staff that resort management recently decided to make redundant over concerns about profitability during the low season, Conrad claimed all its staff were treated “fairly” regardless of their ethnicity.

The group of staff dismissed this month by the company have alleged that whilst working at the Conrad Rangali Island Resort, they witnessed multiple examples of Maldivian workers being discriminated against in favour of expatriate workers of other nationalities. The group claimed that some staff were additionally made to flout expiry dates and other quality standards by management figures.

Some of the allegations reflect wider concerns about the treatment of Maldivian staff across the country’s resort industry, says the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM), which it claims varies significantly in comparison to other countries.  The group claimed that these discrepancies may, in some cases, verge on being “racial abuse”.

Not singling out a particular resort for the practices, TEAM told Minivan News that it believed there were widespread discrepancies in the treatment of Maldivian resort staff in areas such as payment compared to resort workers of other nationalities.

“There are bigger concerns regarding some of these issues – particularly we see there is some salary discrepancy between Maldivian staff and other employees,” claimed TEAM President Ahmed Shihaam. “Right now however, we are focusing on more prominent concerns such as the possible introduction of a national minimum wage.”

The group of workers dismissed from Conrad this month claimed that they believed they had been removed from their positions for demanding action on issues involving site management and staff.  The workers were dismissed with redundancy packages, according to Conrad.

According to the group, management figures had threatened to fire members of staff for their role in trying to raise the issues, which they claimed were linked to strikes taking place at the resort over several days in March of this year.

“There is a lot of discrimination going on in the island, foreigners are more favoured than Maldivians, they earn more, have luxurious rooms to sleep and everything is so perfect for them. We sleep 10-15 men in a room, while foreigners sleep maximum three in a room,” a dismissed former worker at the Conrad resort told Minivan News. ‘’It is very regrettable that we are being mistreated and enslaved in our own country.”

The spokesperson for the group claimed that none of the staff who were given redundancy by the company had deserved to be removed from their posts; having tried to ensure that the “high standards” expected of the resort were being met.

One member of the dismissed group who worked in the resort’s house keeping department alleged that human resources officials at the site turned a blind eye when some staff failed to properly wash towels beyond soaking them in water, drying them off and throwing them onto an office floor.

‘’One day when I was at the house keeping office I was told to wipe out the expiry date of all the mouth wash bottles that has expired,’’ the person claimed. ‘’I told the house keeper that he can’t do that, but I was forced to do it if I wanted to work there.’’

Amongst a list of accusations, the dismissed staff claimed that some senior management figures had  abused their roles by arranging to have the resort’s high-profile underwater restaurant dismiss confirmed bookings so as to accommodate a private dinner for a senior resort employee.

The spokesperson for the group claimed that the company was aware of the restaurant closure, as well as a number of policies it claimed breached rules on safety and employment regulation.

‘’[Local staff] have to test wine, which it violates the Tourism Act. It is also not allowed to have a Maldivian as a barmen, but currently there is a Maldivian barmen at the island,’’ he alleged.

The group’s spokesperson alleged that he and his colleagues had also been asked to open a number of expired yoghurt containers in the main restaurant’s kitchen and to pour them all in to a big bowel to serve for breakfast that morning.

‘’We did it, it was not something related to us or something that would harm us, but we complained to  the management and there was no action taken against it,’’ he said.

Resort response

Addressing the accusations made by its former staff, Conrad Hotels said it preferred not to enter into a “public discussion” concerning the claims. Conrad said it offered several official channels within its organisation that allowed staff to address particular concerns over adherence to company rules and policy during their employment.

The company added that as an international hotel chain, it worked to ensure its employment policies were in line both with Maldivian labour laws and global company standards in order to protect staff at Rangali Island. The resort employed almost three Maldivian workers to each expatriate member of staff, the resort noted.

“The hotel follows employment policies that are consistent with the country’s labour laws and the company’s own standard practices. This includes, but is not limited to fair remuneration, respectful treatment of our team members, training and development opportunities, diversity recognition and fair treatment for all,” stated the company. “It is important to note that as of June 2011, 74 percent of the resort’s team members are Maldivian.”

Conrad also reiterated its claim that the decision to release 29 staff was made based for business reasons – with all members receiving redundancy packages to “help them through the transition.”

Without commenting specifically on the policy of an individual resort, ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim, the Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said the group had not been made aware or been involved in dealing with concerns about discrepancies in the conditions of Maldivian resort workers, as compared to other nationalities.

However, Sim said he believed that the government would not allow Maldivian staff to be treated unfairly and in a disproportionate manner to other nationalities of workers under the conditions of its Employment Act.


Conrad resort claims resolution found to on-site strikes

Strike action at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort was bought to an end last night as staff at the site returned to work following alleged disputes over service charge policy, management have said.

In a statement issued today, the resort, which is part of hospitality conglomerate Hilton Worldwide, claimed that operations were returning to normal after being affected in “a small way” by a number of its staff convening in their quarters on Tuesday (22 March) to call for increases in the amount received from service charges.

As the country continues to review labour laws that would outline policies for striking at resorts, possibly outlawing protests by workers on the “shop floor”, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island said this week’s industrial action had not result in any customers prematurely checking out from the site.

With the wider national Labour Act still awaiting approval in the Majlis, the Conrad resort said that it had attempted to try and open up negotiations with staff following commencement of the strike action on Tuesday evening.

“The hotel respects the rights of all employees to express their points of view in a lawful and non-disruptive manner. As such, team members were invited to discuss the issue with the management team in order to resolve the matter quickly and fairly,” the resort stated. “The staff were unwilling to discuss the matter despite several approaches.”

By yesterday morning (March 23), figures from the Crown Company, which owns the resort in question, as well as representatives from the labour and tourism ministries arrived to discuss the strikers’ grievances – initially without success. However, the company has claimed it was able to find a resolution by 7:00pm on Wednesday evening with staff returning to work “immediately”.

Although the Conrad Rangali Island was unable to provide details to Minivan News of the exact changes it might be making to its operations to conclude the strikes at the time of going to press, the resort claimed in a previous statement that it was willing to review its operations.

“The management’s position is that it is happy to re-evaluate the calculation of the service charge. Additionally, the resort will arrange for independent auditing of accounts to demonstrate that the service charge is distributed in its entirety,” the company said yesterday in a statement.

“The staff had already been informed on Tuesday that salary increases will be offered across the board and are expected to be higher than in previous years following a month-long survey of wage levels in the country.”

‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said following the resolution of the strikes that regulations that would outlaw strike action on resort property were currently under the consideration of the country’s parliament.

Sim claimed that the regulations, expected to be passed as part of a new Labour Act outlining a framework for the nation’s work practices had been drawn up by lawyers along with the assistance of a number of bodies including the President’s Office.

“There is regulation in the works that would govern strikes in the country,” he said. “It has been made very clear in public notifications from the labour ministry that has clarified that ‘wildcat strikes’ should not be tolerated.”

Although the strike regulations are still being reviewed within the Majlis, Sim said that they would likely be passed in their final form as part of a national labour act rather than an individual bill relating to industrial action.

He claimed additionally that the regulations were not related to outlawing strikes, but ensuring instead that industrial action did not take place on the private property of resort owners.

To this end of trying to ensure worker’s rights, Sim said he believed that the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture had already sent details of correct resort grievances procedures to the striking workers, which he claimed had not been followed.

Workers’ groups in the country such as Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) have been openly critical of initial drafts of the strike regulations though, which it claimed were less about regulating industrial action but rather outlawing them altogether.

TEAM president and serving Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Easa has previously claimed that the organisation openly supported regulations that accepted that there has to be a reason to instigate strikes, as well the manner of how they should be conducted.

Back in November, a bill outlining possible standards for strike action was passed to the Majlis’ National Security Committee concerning possible amendments to regulations for industrial action at the country’s resort properties

The bill was initially passed to parliament in August by the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) in attempts to try and curb strikes such as those seen last year at Kurumba resort that reduced occupancy rates to zero for a period.

Parliamentary debate over the bill has seen both fierce opposition and support from figures across the tourism industry, who have argued that current unregulated strike action is detrimental to travel income.