Authorities failed to address safety concerns before deadly crane accident, says Port Worker’s Union

Following the death of two port workers last night (April 7), the Maldives Ports Workers Union (MPWU) has said that staff had repeatedly complained that the boat and the crane involved were unsafe.

Port workers, including the winch men, had reportedly complained that the boat concerned was not safe and that the rollers (a part of the crane) had not been serviced.

Mohamed Nashid, 32, from Kudafary in Noonu atoll and Ibrahim Shareef, 36, from Malé were both killed when the crane’s wire snapped while loading a container onto the boat. The crane’s operator, Imran, fainted on seeing the incident and suffered minor injuries as a result.

Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) has said that all safety requirements had been met, and that the port adhered to international safety standards.

Head of the MPWU Ibrahim Khaleel has said, however, that “employees are in a state of fear.”

“MPL has failed to address any complaints, and furthermore blacklists any employees who complain claiming they are against the government and the management.”

“We have not yet been able to identify who should bear responsibility for the accident,” stated Khaleel, adding that the Transport Ministry must bear some responsibility as it has to do routine inspections on the vessels.

CEO of MPL Mahdi Imad said at a press conference today that all port staff are insured and trained under ILO’s port training. The ships and cranes are checked once a year, he noted, and when the containers were being unloaded all safety requirements were met.

Tragic accident

The ship, named the Morning Viship, had been travelling from Cochin, India, where it had reportedly been shored and renovated.

According to Khaleel, the container fell while a crane was loading it ontothe boat. Reports stated that a piece of the crane’s equipment cracked, causing a flying piece of metal to strike the two MPL staff below, one on the head and the other on his back.

Mohamed Nashid, father of two, was killed instantly from the impact, suffering massive head injuries. Meanwhile, Ibrahim Shareef – a father of three – died while being treated at IGMH for severe skull and back injuries.

The crane operator Imran, fainted upon seeing the accident, with authorities struggling to remove him from the controls as he remained unconscious for an hour after the incident. He suffered minor injuries, and was taken to the ADK hospital for treatment.

Additionally, MPL Cargo Department General Manager Mohamed Hashim contended that such accidents were rare at the Malé business port with just four in MPL’s history. Safety classes and training were conducted regularly for MPL staff, he added.

While Imad and Hashim insisted that safety measures were up to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards, newspaper Haveeru has reported an unnamed MPL staff as claiming that mandatory safety officers were not present last night when the incident occurred.

“Safety officers came to the scene of the incident after more than 30 minutes. And ILO standards state that everyone at the scene must be given counselling after such a serious incident. But nothing like that has been done either,” the anonymous employee was quoted as saying.

The MPWU also contended in a press release today that none of the previous incidents were adequately investigated and that no corrective measures were taken. The union called on authorities for full investigation and to provide compensation to victim’s families.

Hashim said the transport authority and the marine police have launched an investigation, and that MPL operations are suspended until tomorrow while Police have cordon off the business port compound for their investigation.

In an appeal to the public, the Police have appealed to people not to share the victims’ dead bodies on social media. “Such acts deepen the pain of the victim’s families and friends,” the police stated.

MPL’s Imad said that work had been suspended today for an investigation, and will restart at 7:30am tomorrow morning. He confirmed that the MPL will bear all the costs for the two men’s children until they are 18.


Port workers strike to “send a message to the government”

The Maldives Ports Workers Union (MPWU) has taken strike action today following the Supreme Court’s decision – backed by the government – to postpone the second round of the presidential election.

“We are taking our constitutional right to give a message to the government,” said Ibrahim Khaleel, President of the Maldives Ports Workers Union.

Around 90 of the union’s 490 members opted not to come into work for today’s morning shift, though Khaleel pointed out that workers would return to work for the later shift.

“There is not much work there today, but next week we have a charter boat with more than 300 containers. If we are not given an election date, we will stop any future operations. We are just giving that message.”

“The ports union will do this again and again if they do not listen to us,” said Khaleel.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to give a verdict on its election annulment case today – filed by the Jumhooree Party (JP) after its defeat in the first round earlier this month.

After the Elections Commission expressed its intention to go ahead with the polls – scheduled for yesterday (September 28) – the court issued an order to security forces to halt proceedings by force if necessary.

Khaleel said a decision was made not to picket outside the ports today, alleging the port’s management “sent thugs” to attack union workers picketing the port earlier this year.

He argued that police protection had been requested on this prior occasion, but had not been forthcoming.

Both the MPWU and the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) joined forces in May this year to demand amendments to the recently enacted Freedom of Assembly Act.

Clause 24(7)b of the law prohibits any gatherings at the country’s ports, airports, or resorts, without police authorisation – a clause the unions have claimed effectively banned strike action.

After TEAM’s call for “prolonged strikes” last week should the presidential run-off be delayed, Minivan News has received reports of a number of politically motivated dismissals in some of the country’s resorts, in what some staff described as a “firing spree”.

Import dependency

Vice President of the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) Ishmael Asif warned of the likely impact such strikes could have on the country.

“As a country that relies heavily on imports for all of its needs,  a ports strike could have severe impacts on business in the country,” he warned.

As small island state with with a land mass of only 115 square miles, the Maldives has near-total dependency upon imports for basic foodstuffs and commodities, as well as goods used to supply the country’s luxury tourism industry which is indirectly responsible for 90 percent of the economy.

The country’s “excessive reliance on imports” was discussed in a recent government report into economic diversification, which noted that the country’s current account deficit had grown to US$600 million (27 percent of GDP) in year 2012.

“The import dependency continues to grow. The CIF [cost, insurance, and freight] value of merchandise imports has increased from us$120 million in 1990 to us$1.5 billion in 2012,” read the report.

It also noted that the country imported over 90 percent of foods in 2012 – worth US$318.9 million –  resulting in “huge implications for food security as well as inflation.”

Male’s port – managed and administered by the Maldives Ports Ltd (MPL) company – handled 580 ships in 2012, processing over one million tonnes of freight.

Current MPL CEO Mohamed Latheef told Minivan News today that he was unaware of any strike activity.

The MPWU staged a small strike last year after it alleged the MPL had removed the workers’ television after they had used it to watch the Maldivian Democratic Party aligned Raajje TV. MPL claimed the disagreement was a misunderstanding.

That strike received high-profile backing from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).


Global trade union rubbishes Maldives port operator’s claims on rights abuse resolution

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has rubbished claims by the state-owned Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) that the company has allayed the organisation’s concerns over the alleged infringement of employee rights.

The ITF, a global trade union representing 4.5 million transport workers across 154 countries, said it continued to share concerns raised by the Maldives Ports Workers Union (MPWU) over alleged rights abuses by MPL management.  As a result the ITF has begun calls for international solidarity action by its worldwide members after a perceived failure by the MPL and the government to address the alleged rights issues.

Earlier this year, the MPWU, which represents staff employed at the MPL, accused the state-owned company of violating employee rights over, alleging amongst other concerns, that it had unfairly dismissed four employees due to their political activism.

Disputes between the MPWU and the MPL later escalated to a point where the trade union back in September accused the state corporation of forming a “paper union” to shove aside the alleged violations of employee rights.

MPL has denied all the accusations, claiming that the staff members in question were disciplined on the basis of “disobedience” and “punctuality” in line with national employment regulations.

MPL CEO Mahdi Imad told Minivan News on Wednesday (November 7) that the state-owned company had also responded to the ITF, which it said later “apologised” over having raised the issue without checking facts.

However, the ITF has rubbished the claims, maintaining that it had so far had no reply from the MPL regarding the concerns. The global trade union said therefore it dismissed the state-owned company’s assumption it had “won us over”.

“That’s rubbish. There has been no attempt by MPL and the government to address what’s happening to dockers in the Maldives, and in fact what’s happening in the country at large,” an ITF spokesperson told Minivan News.  The trade union group said it would now be stepping up pressure on the MPL and the Maldives government should negotiations with the MPWU not be forthcoming.

After having sent two letters to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, the ITF announced Thursday (November 9) that it was now calling on the government to intervene over “union intimidation” or “face embarrassment wrought by widespread international solidarity action”.

ITF General Secretary David Cockroft said the organisation was calling for a real “dialogue and conciliation process with MPWU” that can lead to a negotiation settlement with the union’s members.

“Members of the union have been fighting off victimisation by the MPL in a campaign to prevent them from participating in union activities; union leaders have also been dismissed,” the ITF has claimed “These actions run counter to the government’s own employment legislation and constitution as well as International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions.”

MPWU representatives, alongside a delegation from the national union centre, were said to have held a meeting with President Waheed last Monday (November 5), though the ITF added that the ports union had failed to receive any “adequate assurances”.

“As a result the MPWU, with support from the ITF, has vowed to step up its campaign,” a statement on the trade union’s website read.

President’s Office spokesperson Masood Imad told Minivan News today that as the MPL was a public company, the government “don’t look into issues like this”.

“These companies are totally independent, we appoint a managing director and the CEOs, but it is the board that makes decision,” he added, referring enquiries on the matter to the MPL.

Workplace disruption

Despite the stance being take by the ITF, MPL CEO Mahdi stressed that workers alleging to have been dismissed on political grounds were actually punished for creating “disruption” in the workplace.

He contended that the workers behind the allegations still had the options of taking their cases to the country’s employment tribunal to resolve any grievances that the company would then have to abide by.

Mahdi claimed that workers dismissed under previous MPL management in 2009 and 2010 had under similar circumstances been reinstated under his stewardship, as well as receiving compensation.

“These people who have been disciplined, they know a tribunal would not come out in their favour,” he said.

Mahdi also vehemently denied that he operated the MPL in a politically motivated manner, adding that the company was run in a “very technical” manner that respected due process.

“I will challenge anybody who says we are politically motivated, I believe no one has a bigger right than anyone else,” he added.

Mahdi alleged that one of the dismissed workers who had gone onto make accusations about political motivation had come into his own office and shouted at him, adding that billions of companies allowed the world would discipline such actions by staff of a senior representative.

“This is work disruption, no one is allowed to break work regulations like this. Belittling and scolding me when I’m on the street in public is ok. But here in the work place they must show me respect,” he said. “I can understand that because of the lower education of some of these people that they don’t understand this.”

Mahdi said that in the present time, the entire country had become deeply politicised even seemingly down to a person’s choice of branded bottled water.

However, he rejected accusations the MPL management were politically motivated in their roles.

Mahdi accepted that with the change of government in February, top positions within state owned companies had changed, though this was the nature of political positions under each successive government and would continue to remain so.

“These are not dismissals,” he said.

Madhi said that despite sending several letters to the President’s Office, all concerns raised by the ITF had been resolved and were solely the result of the efforts of a handful of dismissed staff to try and

“There are no issues with ITF, these have been resolved, it is just two guys going to [Minivan News] and you coming to us,” he said.

“Fabricate the truth”

Earlier this year, sacked MPL employee and President of the MPWU, Ibrahim Khaleel, alleged that the MPL was trying to “fabricate the truth” about the violations of worker rights.

In a letter on July 12 to MPL CEO Mahdi Imad, Chairperson of the MPWU Ibrahim Khaleel said: “Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, it is now common within MPL to stop employees from expressing certain political views, and violate the Employment Act by unfairly dismissing employees and transferring employees to different departments without prior warning or explanation of any offence committed.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Khaleel said the company mainly targeted employees who supported the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“They send people with cameras to MDP protests to check which MPL employees take part in the protests,” Khaleel said.

In addition to the four employees who have been dismissed at the time, 30 had intially been suspended and 10 have been transferred from their position at the Malé port to Thilafushi Island port, Khaleel claimed.


International Labour Organisation intervenes over MPWU harassment allegations

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has written to the Maldives government for a response to allegations that members of the Maldivian Ports Workers Union (MPWU) have been harassed over their political views.

In a letter seen by Minivan News,  Cleopatra Doumbia-­Henry, Director of the ILO’s International Labour Standards Department, asked the government for its observations about accusations raised by MPWU members concerning workplace harrasment.

The letter also “denounces” the termination of MPWU president Ibrahim Khaleel, executive committee member Yazeedh Abdhul Hameed and six other union members.  Concerns were also raised by the ILO over the suspension of 49 trade union members, the reassignment of many union members to other ports, and accusations of threats and harassment towards union members.

The MPWU itself has previously alleged that authorities at Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) had violated worker rights based on their political activism. MPWU President Khaleel has previously sent a letter to MPL CEO Mahdi Imad, in which he said, “Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly , it is now common within MPL to stop employees from expressing certain political views, and to violate the Employment Act by unfairly dismissing employees and transferring employees to different departments without prior warning or explanation of any offense committed.”

Speaking to Minivan News today, Deputy CEO of MPL, Ahmed Faiz said they had already sent a response to the ILO on behalf of the Maldivian government. Faiz was unable to share the contents of the letter, but said that it was based around the authorities’ belief that the MPWU was being used as a political tool.

On the topic of MPWU’s accusations of harassment and unfair treatment based on political activism, Faiz said “There can be no grounds to make these accusations. Even today MPL employs many staff who belong to different political parties. We even have people in managerial posts who are actually members of MDP.”

Faiz also went on to say, “MPL is a service provider which deals with a variety of clients. In this time of political turmoil, such activism out in the open may have a bad impact on the company itself and that is why we took measures to stop them”

Earlier this month, the World Federation of Trade Unions also expressed concern over this matter.

MPWU President Khaleel was not responding to calls at the time of press.