Transparency Maldives highlights plight of migrant workers on May Day

Advocacy NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) has assisted 560 migrant workers with cases of non-payment of wages, poor working and housing conditions, withholding of identification documents and forced labor.

“People need to be more outraged. Migrant workers are not of our nationality, but they are human beings. Maldivians need to consider their plight, especially on May Day,” TM’s Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed told Minivan News.

The NGO estimates there are an estimated 200,000 migrant workers in the country – a figure that amounts to two thirds of the Maldives population.

“But migrant workers have few rights and do not have access to justice. They often face threats or violence even for speaking out about injustices,” Aiman said.

“The 560 cases we were able to assist are really the tip of the ice-berg. We need to do more. Civil society needs to do more, the government needs to do more,” he added.

In 2013, the U.S. State Department ranked Maldives on tier two of its watch list for human trafficking for the fourth consecutive year. Countries are ranked on tier two if the absolute numbers of trafficking victims are increasing and if their governments fail to take substantive measures to address the problem.

A downgrade to tier three could leave the country open to non- humanitarian and non trade international sanctions.

The State Department noted fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages or debt bondages as some of the forced labor situations faced by migrant workers in the Maldives.

A government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives’ second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$ 123 million a year

The Maldives ratified an Anti-Trafficking Act in December 2013, but TM noted implementation, monitoring and enforcement of laws and regulations are crucial to prevent human trafficking.

In addition to the Anti- Trafficking Act, the Maldives has two regulations on migrant workers – the Regulations on Expatriates Working in the Maldives and the Regulation on Bringing Expatriates for the Purpose of Employment.

“Human trafficking often happens due to systematic governance failures, often caused by corruption. Corruption and human trafficking need to be addressed as a matter or urgency to prevent abuses,” Aiman said.

The NGO has called on migrant workers to call its toll free number (800) 300 3567 or visit its free legal advice center between 9 am and 5 pm on working days. The center is located on the 7th floor of MF Building on Chaandhanee Magu in Malé.

TM has helped a group of Indian workers obtain eight months’ worth of unpaid wages and assisted a Bangladeshi group restore electricity in their living quarters.

Employers had cut off electricity when the group asked for the Labor Relations Authority’s assistance in obtaining six months’ wages. The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) is now monitoring the case.

In January, the Maldives Police Services made its first arrest on charges of human trafficking. A 48 year old Maldivian and six expatriates were arrested from Baa Atoll Goidhoo island.


MDP national council resolves to organise Labour Day demonstration

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) national council adopted a resolution today to organise a demonstration to mark Labour Day (May 1) and call for the protection of worker’s rights.

The resolution (Dhivehi) submitted by the party’s Youth Wing Leader Aminath Shauna states that the MDP should organise a public gathering to call for the introduction of a minimum wage as well as for the Maldives to sign the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention on Occupational Safety and Health.

The resolution noted that the MDP has been observing Labour Day since 2006 and that the Maldives became an ILO member state during the party’s three years in office.

Moreover, it added, Labour Day or May Day was made a public holiday and a Labour Tribunal to resolve employment disputes was established in December 2008.

Prior to the ousting of the MDP government on February 7, 2012, the resolution stated that a decision was made to introduce a minimum wage and a board was formed to monitor the policy shift.

However, “dictatorial habits” were returning with the current the administration allegedly violating the rights of workers and intimidating government employees, the resolution stated.

The resolution was passed unanimously by the 37 members in attendance. Today’s meeting of the national council was chaired by former President Mohamed Nasheed, who was appointed acting president at the last meeting on April 1.

During the debate on the proposal for marking Labour Day with a gathering, national council members expressed concern with the government allegedly discriminating against and intimidating MDP members working in the government.

Members elected to various posts of the party were unable to participate in MDP activities out of fear of losing their jobs, national council members said.

MP Rozaina Adam observed that the Maldives was the only country that provides social security benefits that were higher than some wages for full-time jobs.

Noting that janitors at schools were paid MVR2,500 or MVR3,000 a month, Rozaina contended that a minimum wage would discourage hiring migrant workers as more Maldivians would be willing to take jobs currently occupied by foreign labourers.

The introduction of a minimum wage would consequently bring down unemployment, she suggested.

MP Ibrahim Rasheed meanwhile referred to the death of two port workers earlier this month when a crane’s wire snapped while unloading a container.

Rasheed accused the government of negligence in the ports incident and contended that Maldivian workers across the country were treated as “slaves”.

The outgoing MP for Maafanu South urged the party to follow through on issues of concern after holding demonstrations.

Concluding today’s meeting, Nasheed announced that the national council will meet once a month.


Tourism worker union threatens voter boycott if workers’ rights not protected

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.


Port workers stage strike after MPL confiscates television “because we watch too much Raajje TV”

Porters working in Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) held a strike this morning in protest against MPL management for “confiscating” their television set that was kept in the area.

The protesting porters have claimed that their television set was taken around midnight and have alleged MPL had done so because the porters had been watching Raajje TV there.

Raajje TV is a station the political parties affiliated with government have alleged is heavily biased and in favor of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

They have also alleged that the electricity had been cut from the premises while the porters had been viewing a live broadcast of protests held by the MDP on the occasion of International Workers day, or ‘May Day’.

Minivan News understands that many employees in the state-owned ports company are supporters of the MDP.

“When we came in this morning, we came to know that the TV had been taken by MPL. MPL had been furious because we always watch Raajje TV here,” a protester told local media.

An MPL official speaking to local media denied the claims made by the porters, claiming that the TV was taken in order to replace it with a new TV.

“Given the current political situation these days, everything becomes entangled with politics. We only took that TV to replace it with another one,” an MPL official told the local media.

Container clearance work was reportedly halted because of the protest, after protesters barricaded the main gates of MPL. Lorries were parked near the premises and the drivers stopped work to join the protests.

“We won’t open the gates unless the TV is placed back where it was,” a protester told the local media. “No pickup truck will enter the harbour to transport cargo.”

The protester said the TV was given to the port workers by the President’s Office during former President Nasheed’s administration.

“MPL has no authority over it. We even pay the electricity and cable bills as well,” added the protester.

However, MPL denied the claims and said that the TV was installed there by the company. Management said they had asked the protesters to come and discuss the issue with them, but the protesters had declined to do so.

Ibrahim Khaleel, the president of Ports Workers Union (PWU), told Minivan News that the porters had a temporary hut in front of the Maldives Customs Building and had a TV installed there.

“Last night, on the occasion of International Workers Day, MPL had a dinner for the staff. After the dinner, I went near the hut, and some of the porters told me there was no electricity there. I called the staff at the electricity department and they said that the electricity had just gone off. But later I learned that it was done deliberately,” Khaleel said.

“This morning when I went there the TV was gone missing. A porter  told me it was taken by MPL because the porters were watching Raajje TV,” Khaleel added.

Khaleel said that was why the porters went on strike, and that he and President of the Labor Union Ahmed Jaleel had discussed the matter MPL management who had agreed to return the TV temporarily until they came to a decision on its fate.

Khaleel said that the protest has now been concluded and the porters have returned to work following the return of the TV.

MPL’s media coordinator was not responding at time of press.

Maldives Ports Limited recently suspended seven of its staff from their jobs at the state company for their participation in protests held by ousted Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP), a source in the company has confirmed.

MPL staff stage strike over “confiscated” television:


“Mayday Mayday! We have a coup!”: MDP marks May Day

Thousands rallied in Malé on Tuesday campaigning for equal treatment of workers and protesting against the alleged “coup d’état” of February 7 in a rally held to mark International Worker’s Day, ‘May Day’.

The rally, organised by the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and led by former President Mohamed Nasheed, set out from Usfasgandu on the southern ring road of Malé with campaigners waving red and yellow ribbons, balloons, pom poms and drumming on makeshift instruments. Trucks blaring loud music accompanied the rally.

Nasheed resigned following a police and military mutiny on February 7, but later said his resignation was under duress and that he was deposed in a coup d’état. The MDP has held frequent marches calling for early elections and continues to hold nightly meetings at its protest camp area, Usfasgandu, located behind Dharubaaruge.

MDP Youth Wing President Aminath Shauna said the MDP had always worked for labor rights and that although the Maldives had joined the ILO in 2009, she was concerned that the Maldives continued to abstain from important ILO conventions such as those regarding collective bargaining, minimum wage, forced labour and child labour.

Mickail Naseem, 18, said he was at the rally to protest unfair promotions to police and financial benefits to the military at a time of financial crisis. In March, over a third of the police force received promotions while the military received two years of suspended allowances in a lump sum in April.

“Where is the equality? Certain police officers and military have received pay hikes, promotions and flats for housing. But the government has said the Maldives is bankrupt. This also increases pay differences between ordinary civil servants and the security forces,” Mickail said.

Another MDP supporter, Ahmed Yasmin, 30, held up a placard with the words “S.O.S. Mayday! Mayday! We have a coup!”. He had attended the rally “to have fun with my friends since it’s a public holiday.”

The colorful, noisy and peaceful demonstration stalled near former presidential residence Muleeage after police and military in riot gear blocked roads leading to the Republican Square, the President’s Office and Police and military headquarters.

A few hundred campaigners sat down in front of the police lines and were still there as of 7:30pm, but most of the rally participants dispersed. Verbal confrontations took place between MDP supporters and police. Minivan News overhead one police officer from behind a barricade tell a young girl that she was “very pretty” and that he would “like to have sex with her”, which was met with a torrent of abuse.

As of 7:30 pm, the sit in led by President Nasheed continued in front of Muleeage.

The MDP also plans to organise a rally to mark International Press Freedom Day on May 3.


Maldives celebrates workers rights on Labour Day

The Maldives today celebrates Labour Day, the second time the country has observed the public holiday after it was instituted in 2011 by former President Mohamed Nasheed to promote and protect the rights of workers.

May 1 is celebrated in other countries as International Workers Day, or May Day. The date is celebrated throughout the world and is a national holiday in over 80 countries, during which the rights of workers are promoted through demonstrations and marches.

The day will involve demonstrations by a combination of labour organisations in the Maldives capital, Male’.

Vice President of the Tourism Employment Association of Maldives (TEAM) Mauroof Zakir said that an event was been held this morning between 7:30am and 11:00am at which information was given about the employment act and workers rights in the country.

As well as TEAM, the gathering was also attended by representatives from Solidarity Workers USA and the Asian Migrant Workers Forum as well as members of the Human Rights Commissions of the Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

He also said that another demonstration would be held this afternoon, beginning at 4:00pm at the social centre on Majeedhee Magu from where the group intends to march to the Tsunami monument area at Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu. This march has taken place  on May Day for the past two years and Zakir expects between 300 and 500 people to attend.

Zakir described the main concerns within the Maldivian labour movement as being “employment protection, lack of permanent employment, and a rapidly increasing trend of ‘casualisation’. The outsourcing of jobs is also a huge problem.”

“Salaries are being delayed or not paid. This is mostly in the construction industry, but also in the resorts. Workers wages are too low for the standard of living in the Maldives,” said Zakir.

The workers of the state-owned Maldives International Fisheries Company Ltd (MIFCO) are today demonstrating for increased wages amongst other things, reports Haveeru. The local workers had delivered a petition of demands to the company with a deadline of April 25 to which no reply was received.

Amongst the reported demands in the petition, signed by 260 of 354 Maldivian workers at MIFCO’s  factory on Felivaru, were calls for wage rises of 35-40 percent, better food and accommodation and equal treatment of all employees.

May Day was traditionally celebrated as a spring festival in the Northern Hemisphere before the day was chosen in 1886 by North American Labour movements to agitate for improved workers rights, with an eight-hour working day the primary focus.

In 1889, the nascent international socialist movement called for a general strike on May 1 as an annual demonstration of labour solidarity. The day was soon recognised throughout Europe as a public holiday but, keen to distance itself from what was viewed as a holiday, the United States chose to celebrate its ‘Labor Day’ in September.

The first South Asian nation to celebrate the tradition was India in 1923 and it is now a national a public holiday. The day is also referred to in India as Maharashtra Day after the day in which the western region attained statehood. On May 1 Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan will all mark the day with demonstrations of workers solidarity.

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Labour and Employment organised a rally in Dhaka this morning, reports local online paper The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has inaugurated a two day long fair in the capital Dhaka to celebrate the occasion.

Large rallies are planned in Sri Lanka today in celebration of the occasion, prompting the deployment of over 10,000 policemen to handle security and control traffic.


May 1 designated a public holiday to mark Labour Day

President Mohamed Nasheed has declared International Labour Day, May 1, a public holiday in the Maldives beginning this year.

Cabinet said the decision would highlighting the government’s commitment as well as efforts of private parties to protect and promote workers’ rights in the Maldives.

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) has meanwhile announced it intends to hold a ‘May Day’ rally to promote workers’ rights and pressure the government to comply with international labour conventions.

“There are huge concerns about the recent regulations on strikes, which totally bans strikes on resorts,” said TEAM Vice President Maroof Zakir.

Maroof said TEAM was hoping civil service employees, taxi drivers and workers from other sectors would join tourism employees for the 4pm-6pm rally in Male’ on May 1, International Workers’ Day.

“We will start from the social centre and march down Majeedee Magu,” Maroof said.

International Workers’ Day or Labour Day is a common public holiday in many countries.


Govt to propose amendments to Employment Act

Amendments to the Employment Act will be presented to the next session of parliament, Minister of Human Resources, Youth and Sports Hassan Latheef has said.

In an interview with Voice of Maldives on the occasion of May Day, the minister said the amendments have now been sent to the president’s office and were part of the process of ratifying conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The minister said a draft legislation on introducing trade unions and collective bargaining has also been completed.

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) will hold a May Day rally in Male’ today.