Union leaders’ dismissal leads to staff arrests on Full Moon Sheraton

Four members of staff at Sheraton’s Full Moon resort in Kaafu Atoll were taken into police custody yesterday, following the refusal of three dismissed employees to leave the premises.

While the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) has said the individuals were dismissed due to their participation in Labour Day celebrations earlier this month, representatives of the resort have said the dismissals were preceded by “a number of incidents”.

“There is no freedom of association or freedom of speech in the Maldives, especially not in the tourism industry,” said TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir.

Police have informed Minivan News that the staff members were arrested for obstructing police duty following a call from resort management yesterday afternoon.

Shumaes Rasheed, Marketing Communicating Manager at Full Moon, provided further details:

“As the associates refused to leave the island, Maldives Police Service were notified to assist them in escorting them off the island.”

“Another four associates were arrested by the police for obstruction in carrying out their duties, and these associates have also been dismissed,” added Shumaes, noting that the welfare of the guests had not been affected by the incident.

Zakir told Minivan News that those initially dismissed were “key trade union leaders” on the resort, who had been preparing to  enter collective bargaining with resort management.

Zakir said that the letter of termination issued to those dismissed referred to a gathering on May 1 during which the TEAM members decorated their association hut with banners calling for a minimum wage to US$600, improved freedom to speech, and other internationally recognised union rights.

“We cannot accept that, a wilful and peaceful gathering organised by the union is allowed in the ILO convention,” said Mauroof – noting that this was a convention to which the Maldives is a signatory.

The arrests followed a gathering by employees calling for their colleagues’ reinstatement,  into which police “immediately intervened”, said Mauroof. He suggested police had been on the island for a number of days as part of a pre-planned operation.

Yesterday’s unrest was the latest in a number of incidents of staff unrest among the workers in the country’s largest industry which contributes an estimated 80 percent to the country’s GDP.

Figures from the Tourism Ministry have today revealed arrival figures to have increased by 11.2 percent this year compared with the same point in 2013 – a year which saw a record 1.3 million tourists arrive in the country.

Rising number of incidents

“It is unlikely anything will come out of parliament that will give protection to the workers,” noted Mauroof, suggesting that concerted industrial action by the country’s 26,000 tourism workers may be the only way to improve workers rights. 25 percent of the 17th Majlis are themselves resort owners, he added.

Despite the political turmoil of recent years, the country’s primary industry has remained sacrosanct, with the Majlis even passing legislation prohibiting such acts.

The tourism boycott bill passed the house in October last year, making it illegal to call for a boycott, to support or endorse of a boycott, to participate in a tourism boycott, or any act that would incite fear amongst tourists.

Mauroof suggested that the rising frequency of unrest on resorts in recent months could be attributed to a combination of a rising cost of living in the country and greater awareness of workers’ rights.

Increasing “overuse” of the Freedom of Assembly Actmuch criticised since its introduction in 2012 – by authorities was also cited by the TEAM leader as cause for the dismissal of over 150 tourism employees.

“If the government has positive intentions to protect workers – things might change. Otherwise we will need some international leverage.”

Despite the general desire to separate the country’s primary source of income from its fractious politics, a number of resort workers have alleged in recent months that their dismissals were directly linked to the political leanings of their employers.

Both Gasim Ibrahim – owner of the Villa Group – and Ahmed Shiyam – owner of Sun Siyam Resorts –  have been accused of purging staff rosters of staff members aligned with opposition political groups. Gasim and Siyam are the leaders of the ruling coalition Jumhooree Party and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), respectively.

Earlier this week, a small but vocal protest could be heard circling the capital Malé, with a lone demonstrator pleading with the MDA leader:

“Sun Travel, I’m begging you on my knees, don’t threaten your employees. Don’t force people into your party. Don’t do this.”

Last month it was revealed that police were investigating a threatening phone call allegedly made by Siyam to a former employee of Vilu Reef resort.

“Let me tell you, you don’t have any rights,” the Dhaal Meedhoo MP was heard to say. “If you try to harm my business I will destroy you.”

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Mauroof Zakir to contest Kendhoo constituency as an independent

General Secretary of Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) Mauroof Zakir has said he will contest the Baa Atoll Kendhoo constituency as an independent candidate.

“I have support from the constituency and I believe I can win this seat,” Zakir told local media.

Zakir lost the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) primary for the constituency to former Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) leader and incumbent MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

However, Zakir has said he does not accept the results of the primary claiming MDP members in Baa Atoll Kendhoo island were not given an opportunity to vote.

The MDP said Kendhoo members had refused to allow a re-vote to proceed after an initial vote was invalidated due to irregularities.

His decision follows that of recently stabbed MDP MP Alhan Fahmy, who announced his decision to run as an independent after losing what he alleged to have been an unfair poll in Feydhoo constituency.

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MDP primary candidate considers legal action over “unfair polls”

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) primary candidate in the Kendhoo constituency, Mauroof Zakir, has said he is considering seeking legal action over what he has deemed “unfair polls.”

Zakir competed against former Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) leader Thasmeen Ali, with the party on Saturday awarding the party ticket to Thasmeen after he won 391 votes to Zakir’s 199.

However, Zakir has called for a re-vote, alleging MDP members in Baa Atoll Kendhoo Island were not given the chance to vote.

The Kendhoo constituency consists of six islands – Kudarikil, Kamadhoo, Kendhoo, Kihadhoo, Dhonfanu,and Dharavandhoo. Polls were held for members in all six islands and constituency members residing in Malé on January 24.

However, polls in Malé were called off due to poor organisation and voter registry issues. Although polls were completed for the constituency in the six islands, the Kendhoo results were later invalidated after members asked for independent officials at the ballot box.

The MDP said that Zakir – who is also the head of MDP’s Kendhoo branch – had designated all officials at the ballot box.

The MDP sent independent officials to Kendhoo in an attempt to hold a re-vote, but members refused to allow the vote to proceed claiming the reason for invalidating the first polls was unacceptable. According to the MDP, Zakir’s supporters called for a re-vote in the entire constituency.

In the first poll held on Kendhoo, Zakir had received 204 votes and Thasmeen 15 votes .

Unable to proceed with voting on Kendhoo, the MDP decided to tally the results without the Kendhoo members’ votes.

“I am asking for a re-vote. It will be more fair and better for the party,” Zakir told Minivan News.

“I am considering seeking legal action through the court. But I also have to consider the fact that the MDP may lose the seat with an internal fight like this.”

MDP election committee member Ali Niyaz defended the party’s decision, claiming that even if polls are held on Kendhoo the vote will not affect the outcome.

Of the 260 members who are eligible to vote in Kendhoo, an estimated 100 had voted in Malé on January 31 when the MDP cancelled the Kendhoo vote, he said.

Even if all the remaining 160 members voted for Zakir, the overall result will not change, as there is currently a difference of 192 votes between Thasmeen and Zakir, Niyaz said.

“Also, we are on an extremely tight deadline. We have to submit all documents to the Elections Commission before February 11.”

Zakir has questioned the figures given by Niyaz, suggesting that a re-vote could indeed affect the outcome of the poll.

The MDP is, however, considering a re-vote in Addu Atoll Feydhoo constituency after it emerged voting had proceeded on an outdated eligible voters list.

Incumbent MP Alhan Fahmy lost the party ticket to Mohamed Nihad, who won 36 percent of the vote (316 votes). Alhan came third and with 18 percent of the vote (154 votes), and had said he would not accept the results, calling for a fresh vote.

Niyaz confirmed the list for the Feydhoo constituency did not list 67 new members. The MDP has not yet come to a decision on holding a re-vote, he said.

Alhan was stabbed on Saturday and is currently undergoing treatment in Sri Lanka.

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TEAM urges employers to pay allowance before Ramadan begins

Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) has urged employers to pay Ramadan Allowances prior to the beginning of the month as stated in the Employment Act.

‘’We call on all employers to pay the Ramadan Allowance they are obliged to pay in the Employment Act, to be paid before the beginning of the month of Ramadan,’’ TEAM said in a press release .‘’Article  51[a] of the Employment Act states that each year, prior to the beginning of the month of Ramadan, one third of the employee shall be paid as Ramadan Allowance.’’

TEAM expressed concern that some of the employees working in the tourism sector have not received last year’s Ramadan Allowance.

‘’We also call on all employees to work to have the Ramadan Allowance paid,’’ TEAM added.

Vice President of TEAM Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News that TEAM’s press release was not only targeted at employers in the tourism industry but to all employers.

‘’It is a right of all the Muslim employees and it is also mentioned in the Employment Act,’’ Mauroof said.

Mauroof expressed concern that although the Ramadan Allowance was introduced in 2008, there have been some employees that were not receiving the allowance.

‘’We have received information that 12 tourist resorts in the Maldives have not paid Ramadan Allowance to their employees last year,’’ he said. ‘’Following an amendment presented by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Easa, now all employees earning less than Rf2000 are supposed to be paid Rf2000 as Ramadan Allowance according to the Act, and we urge all employees working in all the sectors not only tourism sector, to work to have it.’’

Mauroof said he did not wish to reveal the names of the resorts that have not paid last year’s Ramadan Allowance.

”It would be better not to mention their names, just not yet,” he added.

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“Shangri-La strike will not end soon” warns TEAM

The strike over the dismissal of 65 staff members at Shangri-La Villingili Resort in Addu Atoll is still going strong with 157 staff members joining the strike and the support of the Tourism Employment Association of the Maldives (TEAM).

The strike began on 14 April when four villa hosts were dismissed by the resort for locking themselves in an empty guest room to play PlayStation.

Sixty-one other staff members signed a petition to reinstate the four dismissed staff, but instead, they were all escorted by police to Feydhoo in Seenu Atoll and dismissed from their jobs.

Since the strike began, they have been  joined by another 110 other staff members as well as members of TEAM. Over 157 people are now protesting at Feydhoo, hoping the management of Shangri-La will reconsider their decision and reinstate the 65 staff.

But Vice President of TEAM Mauroof Zakir doesn’t think it will be over soon, saying “it might last for another week.”

“Management doesn’t want to change their decision,” he said, noting that the strike is still going strong and is “well organised.”

Zakir said the PlayStation was originally brought at a guest’s request, but the guest said something was wrong with the console. He said the four staff went into an empty guest room—noting all the rooms around it were empty “so there would be no disturbances”—and were checking the console.

“They acknowledged they started to play a football game for about 5 or 10 minutes,” Zakir said, but claimed the resort’s management did not deal with the situation “as they should have.”

“After 45 minutes, they had made their decision [to dismiss the villa hosts],” Zakir said.

He said a number of staff then went to the Human Resources department to demand resort management reinstate the four staff members, but management refused.

“We are still trying to negotiate with management,” Zakir said, “but they don’t want to negotiate with our demands.”

He said management then decided to fire everyone who had taken part in petitioning for the reinstatement of the four staff members, and called police to have all 65 staff escorted to nearby Feydhoo.

Shangri-La Villingili Resort
Shangri-La Villingili Resort

Zakir said the 65 dismissals were unlawful as staff were given no warning and no termination letter. He added that since the incident took place, they have been receiving informal messages from resort management that all staff who joined the protest will be fired, too.

“[Management] is still trying to protect their decision,” Zakir said, “they wanted to investigate the case but they don’t want to discuss it [with us].”

Zakir said the resort management was scheduled to have another meeting tomorrow and they were bringing in people from the company’s head office.

He added that the resort needed to not only reinstate all staff but also the trade union.

“Under the Constitution, we have the right to protest and freedom of association,” Zakir said.

He said because the Maldives is a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), they had the right to form unions, and he said he hoped the ILO “might step in” and help resolve the situation.

“They won’t give up and neither will we,” Zakir stated.

Shangri-La’s Director for Communication Leslie Garcia said the resort is “running smoothly and operating as normal,” and added the investigation is currently ongoing.

She said management is “working closely with local government authorities” and was trying to solve the issue, but would not give any comments or details regarding the strike or what measures were being taken to resolve the problem.

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