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”.
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).