Resort workers dismissed on drug abuse charges were ‘key unionists’

Four resort workers were dismissed on June 6 from Alif Alif Atoll Kandholu resort on bogus drug abuse charges because of their work on a petition demanding a minimum wage, the Tourism Employees Association of the Madives (TEAM) has said.

“All four of the dismissed staff were key figures in gaining signatures for the TEAM petition. The resort wanted to dismiss them with any excuse they could find,” said the organization’s secretary general Mauroof Zaki.

The TEAM petition – signed by more than 5000 Maldivian resort workers – demands a US$600 minimum wage, the implementation of an eight percent quota for Maldivians in the resort sector and the equal distribution of service charge to all employees.

Police raided Kandholhu resort – owned by Universal Enterprises – after the management complained of staff using drugs on the island.

A police spokesperson said the four were taken to Rasdhoo Island for a urine test. Two of the staff tested positive on a drug screening. But the police said they were released the next day because the substance they had used was not illegal.

The dismissed staff told Minivan News they were using medication.

Speaking to Minivan News, 21-year-old Ibrahim Sameen said he was “targeted by the management for working with TEAM to gain signatures for the petition.”

“The police started checking our belongings and doing body checks of the people singled out by the management. They checked me and said I was clear of any problems,” he said.

Resident manager Ahmed Jaleel told Sameen to accompany the police to Rasdhoo.

“I immediately asked Jaleel whether he would re-instate my position at the resort if I was did not test positive and he promised me and gave his word.”

When the drug test came out negative, Sameen said he was taken to Kuramathi resort, also owned by Universal Enterprises, and informed of his dismissal.

The letter of termination obtained by Minivan News, accused Sameen of gross misconduct for appearing as if he was not his “full senses” and “disrupting the peave in the resort.”

The letter was signed by Jaleel.

Jaleel told Minivan News that he had did not made any promises to reinstate staff and said he was not aware of their work gaining signatures for the petition.

Meanwhile, a staff at the human resources department refused to comment and said: “the decision to terminate the staff came from the top management.”

Jaleel and the Kandholhu general manager were not responding to further calls despite repeated attempts.

Over the past few years, resort workers have occasionally tried to launch protests.

Workers who had been fired from Sheraton’s Maldives luxury resort for allegedly demanding union recognition protested near the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort and Spa in February, according to the website of the International Union Federation.

Carrying banners with slogans such as “Sheraton fully booked — no room for human rights”, the dismissed workers carried out a boat picket around the resort, while employees came to the beach and waved in support.

Three staff at Palm Beach were dismissed in July 2014 after 50 staff staged a strike over alleged discriminatory polices at the resort.

In February 2013, an employee strike in Vaavu Atoll Alimathaa resort resulted in 27 employees being fired by management.


Resort workers rally for ‘living wage’

Resort workers staged a rally in Malé today calling on the government to set a US$600 minimum wage and to pass a trade union law to allow collective bargaining.

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) organised the rally after collecting about 7,000 signatures on a petition with five main demands.

“Our campaign calling on the government and resort owners to fulfil our demands will go on, even if, in the process, resorts become unable to operate,” secretary general of the TEAM, Mauroof Zakir, told Minivan News at the rally.

TEAM has circulated the petition in more than 70 of the Maldives’ 108 resorts since April. More than half of the 11,426 Maldivians employed in the multi-billion dollar industry have signed the petition.

The other demands include a mandatory 12 percent service charge, resort shares for workers as pledged by the president, and an 80 percent quota for Maldivians in the tourism industry.

Mauroof said TEAM will present the petition next week to the president’s office, the parliament, the tourism ministry, the economic ministry, the attorney general’s office and the youth ministry.

TEAM has previously warned of strikes if the government does not heed the demands.

About 50 resort workers joined the rally at the artificial beach today. Mauroof said TEAM was satisfied with the turnout and had not planned for most workers to take leave at the same time.

Protesters wore red T-shirts with the demands printed on the back and draped banners that read, “Sustainable tourism = living wage for tourism workers” and “Unfair dismissal = unfair tourism.”

“Our rights are being taken away. Resort owners discriminate between Maldivians and foreigners,” a resort worker at the rally, Abdulla Jaleel Ibrahim, told Minivan News.

“[Foreign workers] get leave to go visit their families whenever they want or to bring them to the resort with a holiday package, whereas local employees have to wait up to eight months even to get a leave. We are not allowed to bring our families there either.”

Adam Hamdhy, who has been working in the tourism industry for 13 years, said resort owners did not care about local staff employed in low paying jobs.

“They don’t care about how room boys and waiters may have to live. I am truly disappointed to note that local resort employees in higher positions are working against the TEAM’s campaign and their colleagues in lower positions,” he said.

Jumhooree Party MP Ali Hussain also attended the rally and encouraged the resort workers not to give up hope or lose focus.

Hussain vowed that he would submit legislation on industrial relations if the government does not heed the demand.

Deputy tourism minister Hussain Lirar previously told Minivan News that the government will consider the petition.

“The industry consists of a lot of stakeholders, not only TEAM. We will have to hold discussion with all of them before implementing new regulations,” he said.

The Maldives does not have a policy on minimum wage and setting one will require an amendment to the Employment Act. Current laws meanwhile require 50 percent of resort employees to be local, but the rule is not widely enforced.

Preliminary figures from the 2014 census indicated that foreign employees amount to 59 percent of all tourism employees, with 16,342 expatriate workers.

According to TEAM, US$358 million is transferred out of the country as wages for migrant workers annually.

Mauroof previously said that implementing the quota would help achieve the current administration’s pledge of creating 94,000 new jobs.

Providing shares in resorts to their rank-and-file employees was a campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen. Most resorts in the Maldives are owned by private companies and controlled by a few wealthy individuals.

In February 2014, President Yameen said that by the end of the year, a number of resorts would be floating a portion of their shares to the public, and urged Maldivian employees to become shareholders.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb said the government will announce a model for offering shares to workers before the end of the year.


Half of Maldives resort workers sign petition for US$600 minimum wage

Approximately half of the Maldivians working in the tourism sector have signed a petition demanding that the government set a minimum wage of US$600 for resort workers.

Some 5,300 out of 11,426 Maldivians employed in the multi-billion dollar industry have signed the petition launched in April by the the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM).

The petition was circulated in 77 of the Maldives’ 108 operating resorts.

The Maldives does not have a policy on minimum wage and setting one will require an amendment to the Employment Act.

“Only three to seven percent of all tourism revenue is spent on employee wages. The average resort worker only earns US$ 250 per month,” said TEAM’s vice president Ahmed Saleem.

The tourism worker’s organization says setting a minimum wage of US$600 will be easy, claiming a resort “has the capability to earn enough revenue to pay off all wages in one night alone.”

“We know how much resorts earn. We know how much taxes resorts pay to the government. We also know how much is paid in wages, and that is very little compared to the rest,” said secretary general Mauroof Zakir.

The petition also asks the government to set an eighty percent quota for Maldivians in the tourism industry policy. Current laws require 50 percent of resort employees to be local, but the rule is not widely enforced.

Preliminary figure from the 2014 census indicated that foreign employees amount to 59 percent of all tourism employees, with 16,342 expatriate workers.

“Over US$358 million is transferred out of the country as wages for migrant workers annually,” said Mauroof.

He said implementing the quota would help achieve the current government’s pledge of creating 94,000 new employment opportunities within its five year term.

The petition also wants president Abdulla Yameen to honor a pledge to make shares in resorts available to their rank-and-file employees, a rarity in the country where resorts are owned by private companies controlled by a few individuals.

In February 2014, President Yameen said that by the end of the year, a number of resorts would be floating a portion of their shares to the public, and urged Maldivian employees to become shareholders.

The petition also demanded the government to pass a Trade Union Act through the parliament.

Deputy tourism minister Hussain Lirar said that the government will consider the petition.

“The industry consists of a lot of stakeholders, not only TEAM. We will have to hold discussion with all of them before implementing new regulations,” he said.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb said he could only comment on the petition once he sees its demands.

Meanwhile, TEAM members today said the organization will hold a rally on May 30, where “resort workers will come to Malé and present the petition to the relevant authorities.”

The petition is going to be submitted to the president, the vice president, the parliament, the tourism ministry, the economic ministry, the attorney general’s office and the youth ministry.

“We are willing to negotiate with the government, but if the government does not heed our demands we will use constitutional rights to strike as a means of protest,” said Mauroof.


State wage bill sent back to Majlis for the third time

President Abdulla Yameen has returned ‎the state wage policy bill back to the People’s Majlis for reconsideration after expressing concern over the inclusion of some public companies and parliamentary oversight.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz said that the inclusion of public companies with more than fifty percent shares would create difficulties as these are separate legal entities which would subsequently have an outside authority setting wages.

The other key issue related Article 18 of the bill which states that all decisions of the pay commission regarding the setting of wages and formulating wage policies must be approved by parliament.

“The president does not believe the commission would be an implementation authority if the People’s Majlis is to approve its decisions,” said Muaz, noting that it would create difficulties in implementing the Pay Commission’s decisions.

Majlis economic committee member, Kelaa MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom, told Minivan News the bill was being delayed mainly due to a conflict between the two branches of the government, arguing that the Majlis ought to have final say on pay awards as representatives of the people.

The bill which was passed on April 27 had been returned twice by the previous President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

It aims to resolve public sector pay discrepancies through the creation of a National Pay Commission and was first proposed by Kulhudhufushi South MP Mohamed Nasheed in March 2011, and was passed by the Majlis in December 2012 and again in April 2013.

In a letter sent to the speaker of the majlis, President Yameen has requested that points noted by the government be considered.

According to Muaz, further issues emerging from the bill are that it essentially hands over the authority to decide salaries of all institutions, including president’s staff and security forces, which are currently under the executive according to the constitution and laws.

He described the parliament’s deciding upon all changes to salaries and benefits of state employees as “People’s Majlis infringing on the executive’s responsibilities”.

The constitution is clear on the parliament’s roles in allocating salaries independent institutions, continued Muaz, and the parliament’s role when it comes to the wages of other state employees – not specifically stated in the constitution – should be limited to formulating policies on the matter and holding other relevant stakeholders accountable.

President Waheed had previously told the Majlis that the requirement for parliament approval of commission decisions “dissolves the separated boundaries of, and would present difficulties in carrying out the functions of, the state – particularly in carrying out the duties of the executive”.

In response, the economic committee of the Majlis which reviewed the bill said “the best way to maintain checks and balances” is keeping the bill as it is, instead of leaving the power of determining the wages under the total control of the executive.

“People’s Majlis has the largest number of people’s representatives and should be viewed as the people. [In the bill] all the decisions are made by the [Pay] commission and it is only sent to the parliament to see if the people approve of it,” said Dr Mausoom.

When asked if the issue could take another turn with the newly elected parliament, Dr Mausoom said that he believed the new members of the parliament would make a responsible decision.

The ruling Progressive Coalition currently maintains a parliamentary majority and has won a ‘super-majority’ of two-thirds in the newly elected parliament.

The government is currently under pressure from workers over pay discrepancies and minimum wage, with both civil servants and teachers considering strike action in recent weeks.

Meanwhile President Yameen yesterday ratified five bills passed along with State wage bill at the eighth sitting of Majlis’ ‎first Session, on 27 April ‎‎2014.

The five bills which were ratified are the sole proprietorship ‎bill, business registration bill, the fourth amendment to the ‎‎Maldives Land Act,  the sexual harassment bill, and the sexual offences bill.


MDP marks May Day with rally calling for introduction of minimum wage

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) marked May Day or Labour Day on Thursday (May 1) with a rally across Male’ and the signing of a petition calling for the introduction of a minimum wage.

Addressing participants of the rally at the conclusion of the walk across the capital, former President Mohamed Nasheed observed that ensuring worker’s rights was essential for economic development.

“We are raising our voices and calling for the establishment of a minimum wage to facilitate job opportunities for Maldivian workers. The number of foreigners in the Maldives who are made to work for a small wage is increasing daily,” Nasheed said.

The international community considered the Maldives a destination for human trafficking, he added, with Bangladeshi workers paid US$100 or US$150 a month.

While migrant workers were deprived of their rights, Nasheed said the situation deprived Maldivians of employment.

The main purpose of setting a minimum wage was providing job opportunities for Maldivians, he said, calling on pro-government parties to use their parliamentary majority to legislate for a minimum wage.

Nasheed went on to accuse the government of attempting to introduce “harsh practices” to the Maldives in a bid to consolidate power.

The former president called on Maldivian workers to “stand up for your rights.”

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz meanwhile told the press on Thursday that the current administration would protect worker’s rights.

“Several workers lost their jobs due to political pressure during the MDP government. The present government will not discriminate based on political affiliations. We will work to make sure that every citizen, every worker is satisfied,” he was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

He added that President Abdulla Yameen would fulfil his campaign pledge to streamline the government’s pay structure to eliminate wage gaps between state institutions.

Meanwhile, in a statement on the occasion of Maldives Civil Service Day – which is also marked on May 1 – Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Dr Mohamed Latheef urged civil servants to speedily implement the policies and projects of the government regardless of political turmoil.

Dr Latheef noted that a civil service training institute was formed in 2009 to improve competence of government employees.

During the past year, he added, 66 courses were conducted with 1,838 participants from across the country.

As of March 2013, the number of civil servants in the Maldives stands at 24,951.

The opposition MDP meanwhile decided to mark Labour Day with a rally after the party’s national council adopted a resolution submitted by Youth Wing Leader Aminath Shauna last month.

The resolution stated that the party should organise a 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 declared a public holiday by President Nasheed while 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 party contended.


Government to address pay discrepancies as civil servants plan strike action

The Maldives Civil Servants’ Association (MCSA) has discussed a potential strike on April 20 should the government fail to address its concerns – mainly concerning pay discrepancies.

“First we want to find a solution through dialogue with the government. After that, if we have to, we will go on strike. And we are confident if we go on strike ninety percent of civil servants will support it,” MCSA President Mohamed Shaugee said.

Stating that the past three governments and parliament should take responsibility for the delay in setting a minimum wage, Shaugee said “the state as a whole has failed”.

President Abdulla Yameen is concerned about the issue of pay discrepancies and will find a solution through discussions with relevant parties, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali has said today.

“This is not a president who makes decisions based on his personal views alone. There will be discussions. The views and sentiments of the civil servants, doctors, and everyone will be considered in reaching a decision in this matter,” said Muaz.

Civil Servants’ Strike

“Even the Civil Service Commission has failed to protect the rights of civil servants and ensure there is no discrimination [with regards to pay],” said the MCSA’s Shaugee.

“We have discussed this with them, and they said they are working on resolving it. But it is hard to believe as we have been talking about this for the past six years.”

Responding to the civil servants’ plans to go on strike, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) issued a press release today reminding workers of the mandatory steps to be taken prior to a strike, which include filing a complaint with the Labor Relations Authority and giving written notice to the employer three days prior to any strike.

Employees who contravene this regulation can be fined between MVR10,000 – 50,000.

The Teachers Association Maldives (TAM) which led the teachers’ black protest earlier this week  has also threatened to go on strike as a last resort in their fight to resolve pay discrepancies.

President of the association Athif Abdul Hakeem said that, while no official discussions have taken place with the government since the protest, the teachers’ steering committee and focal points will meet this Friday to decide their course of action.

“We have been talking about [minimum wage] since the association was formed in 2008. We have been focusing on two major issues, one is resolving pay discrepancies. Equal pay. Second issue is improving the education sector in general, including resources, training and standards of teachers,” said President of TAM Athif Abdul Hakeem.

Athif noted that with parliament majority, the government can easily change things if there is a political will.

“If [President Yameen] wants to do those things for us, the means are there now. I believe it can be done and it should be done.

The demand for a minimum wage has been raised by Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) as well.

Minimum wage

The Employment Act of 2008 mandated the establishment of  a salary advisory board shall be established to advise the government on the appropriate minimum wage, though no government has yet fulfilled this requirement.

The pay advisory board had been established in September 2008 by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and again in January 2009 by President Mohamed Nasheed, with no minimum wage resulting.

In May 2011, Nasheed announced his intention to set a minimum wage within a year, reconvening the pay advisory board.

Shortly after Nasheed’s initial promise, a number of business groups led by representatives of the Maldives Association of Construction Industry and the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry met to discuss the issue, determining that a minimum wage was “not important for the Maldives at the moment.”

Speaking at the press conference organised by the business groups, leader of the Jumhooree Party and Chairman of Villa Group Gasim Ibrahim said that setting a minimum wage suddenly without a good policy would destroy industry.

His thoughts were echoed by Ahmed Shiyam, Chairman of Sun Siyam resorts and leader of the Maldives Development Alliance.

Similar comments were made by current Deputy Leader of PPM Ahmed Adeeb, who at the time spoke as the treasurer of Maldives National Chamber Of Commerce and Industry.

Adeeb said that it would create great challenges for businesses if an equal minimum wage is set for both migrant workers and locals.

In December 2012, parliament passed a bill on the state wage policy which promised to resolve public sector pay discrepancies through the creation of a National Pay Commission.

The bill is still in the parliament’s economic committee, however, after being sent back for reconsideration by President Dr Mohamed Waheed, after issues were raised regarding which branch of the state would determine wages.


Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) drafting bill for minimum wage, health insurance

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) is drafting a bill to ensure journalists receive a minimum wage and health insurance.

MJA President Ahmed ‘Hirigaa’ Zahir told local media he expects Parliament to pass the bill, which would “ensure journalists can live without handouts”.

“We are saying that journalism is the fourth power of the nation. All other powers have security and everything else. Journalists are faced with grave threats. However, they don’t back down. Hence, such a bill is important,” Zahir said.

The MJA has previously worked to improve journalism in the Maldives, according to MJA Treasurer Adam Haleem.

“There are two institutions which parent the Maldives journalism. These are funded by the state budget. However, we could say that we work for perpetuity. We work without much of a budget. However, looking at the past two, four years, we have kept our eyes more open in media related areas. If a report is compiled by someone based on our work, I think that the work by MJA would take first place,” said Haleem.


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.


Business should not feel threatened by economic liberalisation: MACI President

Maldivian businesses should not feel threatened by a shift towards a liberalised economy despite the significant changes to tax and regulation, the chair of an economic forum between industry and cabinet heads held this week in Male’ has said.

Mohamed Ali Janah, President of the Maldives Association of Construction Industry (MACI) and a business owner himself, claimed that government-proposed economic reforms were no different changes that had already occurred across the western world and parts of South Asia.

While welcoming liberalisation in general, the MACI president said he believed that industry would still likely require more time to adapt to the transitions such as a minimum wage and greater taxation on goods and services.

“We are in something of a transition period right now, but what we want businessmen to understand is that they should not feel threatened [by these changes],” he said. “We are being pushed towards a more liberal economic system where we will need more accountability and transparency.”

Janah claimed the proposed changes reflected a potential move away from the style of family-dominated business dealings that he suggested may in some cases have been less likely to aim for transparency and detailed accounting.

“These things will be exposed, so there may be some reluctance,” he said.

Janah’s comments were made following the second in an ongoing series of meetings held between various local associations like the Maldives Association of Tourism Industries (MATI), the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) and the Liveaboard Association of Maldives (LAM) and various cabinet ministers.

This week’s forum, which was chaired by the MACI president, was the second of its kind to be held between business and cabinet members this year over government economic reform strategies. Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz, Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa and the Governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) Fazeel Najeeb were all in attendance, with organisers claiming that workers’ associations and media representatives were also invited.

Business roundtable

While the initial meeting was focused prominently on issues like government aims to introduce a minimum wage, Janah said that in chairing this week’s meeting, he had called for the formation of a business roundtable that would represent industry and commerce across the country in directly lobbying the government over potential concerns.

The MACI president said that while this week’s business meetings still had political components during their discussions, he hoped  to give attendees a forum to discuss various industry issues more directly, beyond the partisan thinking often linked to decision making in the country.

“We have more than enough political forums, but not enough is being done to allow businesses to talk on a purely technical level,” he said. “I propose that we start a business roundtable. Let’s get all the industries on board and look at various issues including climate change.”

With so many changes expected to be made to business practice in the Maldives, Janah said that he hoped a round-table would be better able to lobby for “sustainable” implementation of reforms in areas such as pay and taxes.

In the context of the government’s reform agenda, other association heads present at the forum suggested that a gradual implementation of a general Goods and Services Tax (GST) and a minimum wage over a number of years were needed by the industry as an example of “sustainable developments”, particularly for small and medium industries.

The collaborations between government and industry targeted through the forums were welcomed by State Minister of Finance Ahmed Assad, who told Minivan News that the meetings were focused on trying to outline a development path for business to the benefit of the entire country as well as the economy.

“As the economy grows, so also should government finances so that the state can meet the demands of the public. Our main aim is for business to thrive to support government finance at sustainable levels,” he said.

Assad claimed that at present, the government’s sole revenue stream from business outside of the country’s tourist industry – recently estimated to amount potentially to around US$3 billion – was in the form of customs duty.

However, with the proposed introduction of additional taxes like GST on local businesses, the state finance minister added that this would create growing interest in the conduct of how government was spending income.

“Once we have a state run on contributions from business, I am sure there will be a lot more interest where this funding goes,” he said.

Robin Hoods and Bolsheviks

Addressing the notion of the term “sustainable” in regards to industry developments, Assad rejected accusations that a combined lobbying group would grant further power to business heads at the expense of individual workers and their rights.

From his own perspective, the state minister said he believed local businesses were generally wary of creating “Robin Hoods and Bolsheviks” by discriminating and alienating their work forces and appreciated that negative worker relations were not in their interest.

“Smart people will always take care of their own workers,” he said. “Maldivian business people are intelligent and wish to keep a good balance in the workplace.”

A stable and confident workforce was also highlighted by Assad as being hugely important in attracting interest from foreign investment to the Maldives.

The tourism side

Among industry groups present at this week’s economic minister was the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), which raised concerns in particular over government commitments to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) potentially removing restrictions on foreign businesses.

Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, Secretary General for MATATO, said the group held some concerns about SAARC initiatives to open up the Maldives tourism markets and allowing foreign travel agents to operate in the country.

While claiming to not be against market liberalisation, Maleeh said that local travel agents were facing increased competition from booking engines and unregistered travel agencies operating illegally in the country.

Amidst growing competitiveness, the MATATO secretary general said that other member nations like Sri Lanka had recently dropped providing free visas on arrival to the country for any nation other than Singapore or the Maldives that was claimed to contravene SAARC rulings on freedom of movement.

In addressing matters specific to the Maldives, Maleeh claimed that MATATO had agreed during the previous forum held two weeks ago that it would support the introduction of the minimum wage, although the group said it had required government action on reducing illegal labour in the country.

“We need more research on the impacts of this and why local people are not seeking out available work,” he said.

Maleeh claimed that even without the possible formation of a formal business round-table to debate industry-wide policy, the association welcomed continued collaboration between various business heads and government.

However, one workers group in the country linked to tourism has pressed the government on implementing more immediate policy changes in relation to employment regulation.

Just last month, the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) actively urged the government to implement a minimum wage needed to address what it sees as a growing gap between the rich and poor.

“TEAM believes that the most important thing to do in order to change the current situation of all persons working in the tourism industry is to implement a minimum wage,’’ said the organisation at the time.

“A minimum wage is also important to avoid the potential bankruptcy of small and medium businesses and to eliminate the differentiation between the rich and poor.’’

TEAM urged the government to conduct a fair survey and to determine an adequate minimum wages, “instead of only listening to few influential big businessmen.’’

The association claimed the minimum wage for those working in the tourism sector should be at least Rf 5000 (US$325) per month.