Union links New Zealand consul to Maldives resort worker dispute

The New Zealand Government risks being held in “international disrepute” over the alleged involvement of one of its honorary consuls in an ongoing employment dispute with a Maldives resort, a letter from the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) has warned.

The letter addressed to New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully has alleged that the country’s Honorary Consul in the Maldives, Ahmed Saleem, was “involved” in an employment dispute with 29 former resort workers from Conrad Rangali Island resort in the Maldives.

In June 2011, 29 staff members working at the Conrad resort alleged they had been dismissed from their posts following a strike held by workers in March that year. However, the resort operator denied the allegations, maintaining that the staff had been made redundant and at the time due to renovations and lower occupancies as a result of the low season.

Conrad Rangali Island resort has previously stated that affected staff had all been provided with “generous” financial support packages as part of their redundancies.

According to the letter sent this month by the SFWU’s National Secretary John Ryall, 22 of the workers made redundant at the resort later challenged their dismissal at a local employment tribunal. The trade union said the tribunal had ruled the employees’ termination had been “unfair” and ordered the resort to reinstate the staff.

The letter alleged that the Conrad Rangali Island resort, supported by resort owners Crown Company, refused to comply with the tribunal order. However, the resort group has maintained that the case was presently being heard at the Maldives High Court.

The letter also alleges that Saleem, through his dual position as New Zealand’s Honorary Consul in the Maldives and as one of the directors of Crown Company, “advertised” his business as being located as the same address as the consulate.

“We urge you to inform Mr Saleem that having the New Zealand government connected in any way with defying a court reinstatement order for workers who were merely standing up for their basic rights is unacceptable and will bring our country into disrepute internationally,” the statement read.

“We urge you to inform Mr Saleem If he wants to continue as a New Zealand Government representative that he needs to ensure that the court ruling is immediately adhered to, that the Crown Company – appointed management recognise the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) union and that good faith negotiations commence to resolve the outstanding issue,” the letter reads.

Minivan News was waiting for a response from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Saleem at time of press.

Seaborne protest

On Friday (January 4), Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) held a seaborne protest near the beaches of Conrad Rangali Island Resort over the resort’s alleged refusal to comply with the tribunal order.

TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News that the aim of the protest was to make guests aware of the allegations raised by former staff members, as well as the employment tribunal verdict calling for their reappointment.

“We went by boat to show our banners to the tourists on the beach [at the resort]. There were a lot of guests there who saw what we had written, however after two hours the police came,” he said.

“Even though we close to the island, we did not cross the line that dictates what the resorts property is. Even though we said this, the Police said they would arrest us if we stayed any longer.”

A spokesperson for Conrad Rangali Island Resort told Minivan News yesterday (January 8 ) that the case is currently under appeal at the High Court.

“Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is aware that there are petitions for the reinstatement of employees made redundant in 2011. The case is under appeal at the High Court of the Maldives and the final verdict is still pending.

“We would like to remind the media that the resort is not required to reinstate the previous employees while the High Court considers the appeal,” the spokesperson added.

Industrial action

TEAM has claimed that its seaborne protest was the beginning of a wider movement that would focus on workers from other resorts alleged to have been mistreated by management.

Mauroof stated that members of TEAM intend to picket at the airport and that letters have already been sent to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and other senior government officials to inform them of an industrial strike.

“I have already been receiving mail form many resort workers as they all want to go on strike right now. But we have to go by regulations, especially in accordance to the new bill outlining the rules for protest,” Maroouf said.

Under the new ‘Freedom of Assembly Bill’ recently passed by parliament, demonstrations outside a number of public places, including resorts and airports will be outlawed.

The regulation also states that although demonstrators do not need to seek authorization ahead of a gathering, police must be then notified of any pre-planned demonstrations before they commence.

Palm Beach Island Resort protests

On Saturday (January 6), local media reported that room boys from Palm Beach Island Resort had gone on strike over alleged delays to salary increments.

A resort employee told local newspaper Haveeru that the striking room boys had also demanded for the head of the Human Resources Department to be sacked over mistreatment of staff.

“There are room boys who have worked here for seven years. However, even they are yet to receive a salary increment. It has been months since a pay raise had been promised,” a resort employee was quoted as saying.

According to Haveeru, the Italian management of the resort pays their room boys MVR2,500 as a basic salary while an estimated US$80 to US$90 as service charge.

Palm Beach resort was not available for comment when contacted by Minivan News at time of press.

Speaking at a photo exhibition celebrating 40 years of tourism on Sunday (January 6) Tourism Minister Ahmed Ahdeeb said that the ministry had been informed about the recent protests.

“We have engaged with both the resort and the striking staff to take a middle position where we can calm the situation. In the future, other disputes will be addressed and we intend to look into them,” he added.