Resort workers union concerned over police detention of executive committee members

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) has criticised police for arresting two of its executive committee members who attempted to travel to the One & Only Reethi Rah resort, following a High Court order reinstating them as workers at the property.

TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News that Mohamed Khalid and Ali Muaz were detained by police on Thursday (May 30) while trying to catch the resort staff ferry. He said both men had remained in custody until being released by the Criminal Court today.

Both men were dismissed from the resort in 2009 over allegations of attacking the property’s then general manager – although no charges were filed at the time, TEAM has claimed.

A police media official today confirmed that the two men were detained by officers on Thursday for “interrupting the schedule” of the Reethi Rah staff ferry and had been held in custody for five days while investigations continued into the matter.

A spokesperson for operator Reethi Rah Resort Pvt Ltd (RRR) meanwhile said the company had not been notified of Khalid or Muiz’s plans to “visit” the property or received advance notice of their attempts to return to work on the site.

“RRR wishes to note that pursuant to applicable laws and practice, it is an offence to trespass on resorts and private property, by any person, without the consent of the owner,” the company stated.

RRR claimed that in the cases where it had reinstated “certain individuals from TEAM” following civil litigation, the workers had later refused to turn up to work.

“Despite not turning up for work after re-instatement, they claimed full salary and benefits, which has been paid to them without fail,” the company stated.

RRR said that it was presently the defendant in ongoing lawsuits filed by individual members of TEAM who had contested their reinstatement at the property.

The company noted that the individuals in question continued to claim they had not been reinstated, despite taking “salaries and benefits from RRR which only employees are entitled to”.

Court order

However, TEAM Secretary General Mauroof today accused management at One & Only of continually failing to comply with a High Court order requesting the reinstatement of nine staff members – including himself – over allegations they were unfairly dismissed back in 2009.

He claimed that RRR had previously issued a letter of reinstatement for Khalid and Muaz to return to the resort, but provided them with new positions in which they had no experience of working. TEAM said that the Civil Court as a result had previously fined the resort operator for failing to reinstate both workers to their previous positions as waiters at the property.

Following Khalid and Muiz’s arrests last week, Mauroof alleged that it was not the first time that police had attempted to stop the two men from boarding the staff ferry to travel to the resort, despite the Employment Tribunal ruling back in July 2009 that both men be reinstated to their former roles at the property. He said the Employment Tribunal ruling was later backed by High Court.

According to TEAM, as well as ordering the reinstatement of the nine workers dismissed from One & Only Reethi Rah back in April 2009, the resort had also been ordered to pay them their basic back salary and service charges up to September 2012.

TEAM said that it continued to seek negotiations with management at RRR over the issue of reinstating the dismissed staff to their former positions. With court cases continuing into the matter, Mauroof claimed that the resort owner was running out of ground to legally appeal its case, calling on the company to reinstate both men in line with the court order.

In the meantime, TEAM has said that Khalid and Muaz would “continue to fight” to return to work at the resort within the country’s laws and regulations, adding that they would again attempt to travel to the resort on the staff ferry.

With legal wrangling between RRR and TEAM over the staff dismissals continuing for the last four years, Mauroof said that the case remained vitally important to the dismissed workers. He said that amidst fears concerning unemployment rates in the country, the dismissed wished to return to their jobs for fear they might not be able to find positions at other properties in the country.

Industry fears

Despite the Maldives ratification this year of ILO eight “fundamental” International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, TEAM said it continued to be concerned about the rate of “unfair dismissals” across the resort industry.

While accepting that the country’s local workforce needed to be more “cooperative” with resort management, Mauroof accused some companies – particularly smaller local hospitality groups – of trying to keep workers “in the dark” regarding their rights.

“No one wants to lose their jobs in the industry, but we see some resorts trying to keep staff in constant fear that they face termination from their jobs,” he said.

Mauroof claimed that there were particular concerns over job security among staff working for local hotels groups, rather then multinationals and larger resort operators such as One & Only, which he said had a much better track record.

Minivan News was awaiting the response of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture at time of press if it had taken a role in the dispute between RRR and TEAM.

Rights monitoring

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said earlier this month that the tourism ministry closely monitored working standards and staff treatment across the industry.

Malle claimed at the time that from the ministry’s experience, the vast majority of the country’s resort workers and management were all working together to benefit the wider industry.

“If there is an issue, we will go and inspect resorts and make sure staff are being treated in line within the stipulated requirements,” he said.