Manager found guilty of sexual harassment let off with warning

A manager at the state-owned Hulhumalé Development Corporation (HDC) has been found guilty of sexually harassing a female employee, but has been spared with a warning.

The HDC’s human resources manager Mirshan Ahmed was accused of sending inappropriate text messages to an employee who had joined the company in March.

He had suggested she was hired for her looks and told her he would penalize her when she did not respond to his messages.

According to newspaper Haveeru, Mirshan admitted to sending the inappropriate texts at a review committee.

The HDC deputy managing director Mohamed Shahid told Minivan News today that Mirshan has been warned, and said the HDC has decided to renew the female employee’s contract.

Speaking to Minivan News previously, the employee said HDC had declined to renew her contract when she raised the allegations of sexual harassment.

She said she then sent an email to all HDC staff with proof of Mirshan’s inappropriate remarks. The HDC subsequently fired the assistant director of marketing and suspended an IT officer for a “security breach.”

Shahid today said the HDC has reinstated the marketing staff and cancelled the suspension of the IT staff.

According to a law passed in May 2014, government offices must set up internal committees to investigate complaints of workplace harassment within 60 days. The committee is authorized to warn, suspend or dismiss the perpetrator.

The HDC employee who had filed sexual harassment charges told Minivan News that Ahmed regularly commented on her clothes and her hair.

“He once messaged me saying I should thank him for this job. He said he saw my picture on my application form and hired me because I looked so pretty,” she said.

“Maybe because I am a single mother, he once told me that I am a ‘buy-one-get-one free’ deal.”

When she first complained to her colleagues about the harassment, she was advised to stay silent and warned that she may lose her job.

However, she lodged a complaint with the senior management after other female employees shared similar experiences of harassment from Mirshan.

Minivan News was unable to reach the employee for comment at the time of going to press.

Aerial photo of Hulhumalé by Nattu Adnan


Cabinet takes measures to manage 2013 budget to avoid “enormous challenges” later in the year

The Cabinet is to take austerity measures to manage the MVR 15.3 billion (US$992 million) budget passed in parliament for 2013.

According to the President’s Office website, the cabinet noted that should measures not be put in place to control the budget, the country would face “enormous challenges”.

The cabinet took the decision after discussing a paper submitted by the Ministry of Finance and Treasury. The Ministry of Finance intends to inform government offices of the austerity measures.


Tour giant funding project to raise resistance of coral reefs in the Maldives

Travel giant Kuoni, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and local environmental consultancy Seamarc have launched a comprehensive project to protect coral reefs and address the impact of climate change in the Maldives.

Speaking at the launch of the project this week at the Nalahiya hotel in Male’, Kuoni’s Head of Corporate Responsibility Matthias Leisinger observed that “tourism is like fire. You can cook with it, but it can also burn your house down.”

Kuoni has conducted a similar project in Egypt, targeting the Red Sea. Such projects were, Leisinger said, investment by the company in the long-term sustainability of destinations and a tool well within the company’s business model.

The 100 year-old leisure travel operator employs 10,000 people across 40 countries, and had as a result of its breadth broadened its scope from travel and tour provision to “destination management”.

“Investment in corporate social responsibility is a long-term business tool,” Leisinger said. Tackling practices such as sex tourism, for instance, was also a way of protecting the company’s brand, he explained.

Ensuring that hotels had no waste on beach, that islands had infrastructure such as sewerage plants and that staff were treated fairly increased the quality of the company’s end product, which affected its bottom line, he explained.

One aspect of the project involves establishing waste management facilities on 10 inhabited islands near Kuoni resorts. According to the project synopsis, “islanders will be taught to segregate waste at household level and bins will be provided to store the waste separately until removal from the island. A once-off large clean up may need to be organised before implementation of the system as most islands have accumulated waste over time.”

As well as improving the environment of the local island and allowing the resort to tick one of its ‘corporate social responsibility’ boxes, the facilities will “reduce the waste that washes up on the shores of the resorts themselves.”

A key focus of the project is protection and management of the resorts’ housereefs, which are currently protected by law from all fishing activities apart from bait fishing, “and as such, these areas act as marine protected areas (MPA) by default.”

However few resorts employed marine biologists to manage the housereef and limit destructive activity, and many times the boundries were ambigious “which results in unacceptable use of the reefs by outsiders leading to conflicts between the resort and local people.”

Under the project, four resorts will trial an ‘MPA management plan’ involving ecologicial surveys and the use of a warden to “drive away intruders”.

The project will also include an extensive series of training sessions and workshops for resort staff and local communities, and including on the reporting and monitoring of coral bleaching.

Senior Advisor at IUCN Dr Ameer Abdulla explained that bleaching represented the expulsion of symbiotic plants from coral due to stress factors such as pollution, sudden changes in temperature and ocean acidification, making the coral vulnerable to algae.

“Eventually the reef disintegrates, with the loss of shoreline protection and tourism benefits,” he explained.

“A bleaching event in 1998 saw close to 100 percent mortality in some areas [of the Maldives],” he said. “It was 87 percent in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but because the area has been well managed the rate of recovery was very high.”

Tackling climate change was a broader problem requiring international effort, but local measures to reduce impacts and increase the resistance threshold of the reefs could “give the coral a fighting chance”, he explained.

Dr Abdulla noted concerns raised by dive staff at one resort that local fishermen had begun fishing for grouper on the resort’s house reef, but were unsure of their mandate and did not want to spark local conflicts.

A representative from the Ministry of Tourism, present at the launch, observed that such incidents were likely to increase “as stocks diminish elsewhere.”

The representative also noted new challenges arising with the changing market profile of tourism in the country – whereas visitors from European countries such as France and Germany responded well to requests to respect the natural environment, “the market is changing, and Chinese guests are walking on the reefs, catching and eating crabs… During a recent visit to Shanghai we tried to get the message across, but it’s a very different culture.”

A representative from the Marine Research Centre (MRC) retaliated that it was in the interests of the Tourism Ministry to legally mandate resorts “to take responsibility for the natural environment for the duration of the lease.”

Much of the country’s lucrative resort industry “remains very closed,” he observed.


Shangri-La staff sacked for playing PlayStation, 157 now on strike

Staff at the Shangri-La Villingili Resort are 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 staff usually do not get a break during lunch time if the occupation of the island is high, but that day they got a break,” the source said, claiming the dismissal was “against the handbook of the resort.”

The source said the four men were dismissed after they were caught by security manager Jack David and Duty Manager Mohamed Ashraf. In response, 157 staff at the resort went on a four-day strike demanding their colleagues be reinstated.

The men were discovered when the house keeping manager found the room double locked and reported it to the duty manager, “as nobody was supposed to be inside,” the source said.

”The security manager and duty manager attended the place to see who was inside,” he said.

He claimed the security manager went to the back door of the villa just as one of the men inside opened it to see if anyone was outside.

”The security manager thought he was attempting to flee,” the source said.

”He pushed the man, saying ‘You do not know my background, I worked at the military for five years, your life is short now,’ and he fell to the ground and was hurt,” the source alleged.

The security manager “then ordered everyone to stay still until they finished investigating.”

He said that after taking pictures of the scene Ashraf told them the investigation was finished but did not allow them to leave.

”The of them the wanted to leave the room and go,” he said, “but security did not allow them to leave, and it because heated.”

He alleged that when one of them walked toward the door security pushed him back by neck.

”After shouting at each other for a while they managed to leave the room,” the source said.

Resort management gathered a council committee which included seven staff from the resort.

”The committee requested management to act according to the resort’s handbook,” he said, ”which stated that the four men should be given a ‘Category C’ punishment –  a written warning – while security management should be given ‘Category D’ punishment – dismissal.”

The source said the management wanted to give the same punishment to four staff and the security manager, “but everyone was against it, so we told the management that all the staff were against the decision,” he said.

”The next day the manager gathered us and said that he and the general manager had discussed the issue and decided to dismiss all five of them.”

He said that upon hearing the news staff across various sections of the resort were unhappy and petitioned management asking for the case to be reopened a dealt with according to the handbook.”

Shangri-La workers on strike
Shangri-La workers on strike

Bulk dismissal

”When we gave the petition to the manager he told us that everyone who had participated in the petition could also consider themselves dismissed and should leave the island immediately,” the source said.

”So all 65 of us gathered near the administration block demanding he take back the order and reinstate the jobs of the four dismissed villa hosts.”

He claimed the Shangri-La management refused to hold further discussion over the issue, and repeated that they were all dismissed and were to leave immediately.

”Police arrived that night and told us to leave the island within 10 minutes or they would use force,” he said, ”so we left on the resort’s ferry to Feydhoo in Seenu Atoll with the police.”

Police reportedly told the workers they could continue the strike on Feydhoo “in accordance with the law.”

”We are now in Feydhu continuing our strike and we now we have 157 Maldivian staff from Shangri-La with us,” he said.

”We will not stop until management decides to give us a written document reinstating the jobs of the four villa hosts.”

Vice President of the Tourism Employment Association of Maldives (TEAM) Mauroof Zakir said the association “fully supports” the strike.

”The International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) are also supporting the event,” Zakir said, adding that he was now at Feydhoo with the strikers taking part in the event.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that police arrived at the island upon request of the resort management.

Shiyam said the management claimed the situation was threatening to escalate into a brawl and requested police remove the staff from the island.

Shangri-La’s Director for Communication Leslie Garcia said investigation of the case was ongoing and she was unable to provide more information.

Deputy Minister of the Labour Relations Authority Aiminath Shifaya meanwhile said that the ministry was trying to resolve the issue peacefully by negotiating with management and employees.

Shifaya said two representatives of the ministry were now present on Feydhoo.

”We hope that the issue would be solved by tomorrow,” she said. ”Both sides are co-operating with us.”