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.