Half of Maldives resort workers sign petition for US$600 minimum wage

Approximately half of the Maldivians working in the tourism sector have signed a petition demanding that the government set a minimum wage of US$600 for resort workers.

Some 5,300 out of 11,426 Maldivians employed in the multi-billion dollar industry have signed the petition launched in April by the the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM).

The petition was circulated in 77 of the Maldives’ 108 operating resorts.

The Maldives does not have a policy on minimum wage and setting one will require an amendment to the Employment Act.

“Only three to seven percent of all tourism revenue is spent on employee wages. The average resort worker only earns US$ 250 per month,” said TEAM’s vice president Ahmed Saleem.

The tourism worker’s organization says setting a minimum wage of US$600 will be easy, claiming a resort “has the capability to earn enough revenue to pay off all wages in one night alone.”

“We know how much resorts earn. We know how much taxes resorts pay to the government. We also know how much is paid in wages, and that is very little compared to the rest,” said secretary general Mauroof Zakir.

The petition also asks the government to set an eighty percent quota for Maldivians in the tourism industry policy. Current laws require 50 percent of resort employees to be local, but the rule is not widely enforced.

Preliminary figure from the 2014 census indicated that foreign employees amount to 59 percent of all tourism employees, with 16,342 expatriate workers.

“Over US$358 million is transferred out of the country as wages for migrant workers annually,” said Mauroof.

He said implementing the quota would help achieve the current government’s pledge of creating 94,000 new employment opportunities within its five year term.

The petition also wants president Abdulla Yameen to honor a pledge to make shares in resorts available to their rank-and-file employees, a rarity in the country where resorts are owned by private companies controlled by a few individuals.

In February 2014, President Yameen said that by the end of the year, a number of resorts would be floating a portion of their shares to the public, and urged Maldivian employees to become shareholders.

The petition also demanded the government to pass a Trade Union Act through the parliament.

Deputy tourism minister Hussain Lirar said that the government will consider the petition.

“The industry consists of a lot of stakeholders, not only TEAM. We will have to hold discussion with all of them before implementing new regulations,” he said.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb said he could only comment on the petition once he sees its demands.

Meanwhile, TEAM members today said the organization will hold a rally on May 30, where “resort workers will come to Malé and present the petition to the relevant authorities.”

The petition is going to be submitted to the president, the vice president, the parliament, the tourism ministry, the economic ministry, the attorney general’s office and the youth ministry.

“We are willing to negotiate with the government, but if the government does not heed our demands we will use constitutional rights to strike as a means of protest,” said Mauroof.


Government sends defrauded pilgrims to Mecca

The government has sent the 121 victims of the al-Fatuh Hajj and Umra group frauds on the Hajj pilgrimage under the care of the Hajj Corporation.

According to local media, the people sent today were those who had paid al-Fatuh and obtained their visas before the company pleaded bankruptcy to the Islamic Ministry explaining that it would not be able send the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

Haveeru reported that the government has spent MVR9 million (US$584,036) to cover the expenses of the defrauded pilgrims.

At a press conference on Friday, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said that the government was covering the expenses of the victims because the Saudi Arabian Government might reduce the quota to the Maldivians if the full quota is not fulfilled.

The 1000 pilgrims quota provided by the Saudi Arabian Government is split into two, with 500 reserved for the Hajj Corporation and the rest divided into private corporations chosen after a bidding process.


Police arrest al-Fathuh Hajj group managing director for fraud

Police have arrested the managing director of the al-Fathuh Hajj and Umra group for fraud after the company accepted payments from would-be pilgrims in excess of the quota provided by the Islamic ministry.

Musthafa Mohamed, 68, from Maafanu Excel, was taken into custody on Friday (September 12) around 6pm from his residence in Malé.

Police also searched the residence as well as the al-Fathuh office with a search warrant. The Criminal Court has since extended the remand detention of the suspect to 15 days.

The government has announced that the state Hajj Corporation will now make arrangements for the defrauded persons to travel to Saudi Arabia.

The group was provided a quota of 125 by the government, but charged a 100 additional people, most of whom reportedly paid significantly higher than the normal rate of MVR69,000 (US$4,475) under a ‘VIP package.’

The al-Fathuh company had said arrangements would be made for the additional pilgrims under a quota from a foreign country.

Last week, about 25 families protested outside the al-Fathuh office in the capital after 76 expectant pilgrims were told they would not be able to depart for Mecca as scheduled on Monday (September 15).

Police have urged persons who have made payments to the group to contact the economic crime department as soon as possible on 9790048.

Company told ministry of bankruptcy

Meanwhile, at a press conference on Friday, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed revealed that the al-Fathuh group had informed the ministry that it would not be able to take the 125 pilgrims it was authorised to take to Mecca.

The 125 pilgrims were due to depart for Saudi Arabia tomorrow when the company told the ministry that it was “bankrupt”.

The ministry also discovered that the company had not made payments to the airline and the hotel, Shaheem said.

After the company requested assistance, Shaheem said the ministry arranged for an extension from the airline to make payments as the reservations would have been canceled at 12pm on Thursday (September 11).

“However, the company was unable to do it when the deadline elapsed,” Shaheem said.

Shaheem said a task force had been formed at the request of President Abdulla Yameen to make arrangements to send the 125 pilgrims to Mecca. Yameen himself will also conduct the Hajj pilgrimage later this month.

Expenses for the pilgrims in Mecca and Medina would be covered by the government’s Hajj Corporation, he said.

“Tickets have been taken for everyone who had decided to go to Hajj with the company and had obtained visas,” Shaheem said.

At a meeting with the defrauded pilgrims on Friday night at the Islamic ministry, Shaheem reportedly said that the Maldives was getting “a bad name” as a result of Hajj groups failing to make payments on time to agents in Mecca.

An agent came to the Maldives last week and told the Islamic minister that one Hajj group owed him 1.2 million Saudi riyals, Shaheem revealed.

The money had been owed for years, Shaheem said, noting that it amounts to about MVR5 million (US$324,254).

Quota not reduced

Shaheem said the government to decided to cover the expenses of the defrauded pilgrims because the Saudi Arabian government could reduce the 1,000 person quota provided to the Maldives next year if the full quota was not used.

While the Saudi government had reduced quotas for other countries by 20 percent, Shaheem noted that the Maldives quota was not lowered.

Of the 1,000 pilgrim quota afforded to the Maldives by Saudi Arabia, 500 were reserved by the government’s Hajj Corporation while the rest were divided amongst Hajj groups chosen after a bidding process.

In February, the Civil Court and the Anti-Corruption Commission ordered the Islamic ministry to halt the bidding process and revise the criteria for awarding quotas.

The government-owned corporation meanwhile charged MVR69,965 (US$4,537) per person. Performing the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Hajj Corporation Chairperson Dr Aishath Muneeza told reporters that the corporation would attempt to provide the same quality of service to the 125 pilgrims defrauded by al-Fathuh as it would to the 500 pilgrims who would perform the pilgrimage under the corporation’s care.

Muneeza revealed at Friday night’s meeting that the additional pilgrims would cost the corporation MVR9 million (US$583,658).

In a similar case of fraud involving a Hajj group, the owner of the Maleesha Hajj Group, Ismail Abdul Latheef, is currently on trial for defrauding 175 people of MVR12 million (US$778,000), after they made payments to the company in 2012.


Over 70 unable to perform pilgrimage after paying dues

Families of 76 expectant pilgrims who made payments to the al-Fatuh Hajj Group protested outside the company’s offices today after they were unable to depart for Mecca.

According to local media, the group was provided a quota of 118 by the government, but charged 76 additional people.

Online news outlet CNM reported that the group agreed to reimburse the disgruntled clients within 10 days. About 25 families reportedly gathered outside the group’s offices this afternoon.

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed declared this week that Hajj groups that accepted payments from people in excess of their quotas would be disqualified next year.

Of the 800 pilgrim quota afforded to the Maldives by Saudi Arabia, 400 were reserved by the government’s Hajj Corporation while the rest were divided amongst Hajj groups chosen after a bidding process.

The government-owned corporation charged MVR69,965 (US$4,537) per person. Performing the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime is one of the five pillars of Islam.


Two hundred Maldivians miss out on Hajj pilgrimage after Saudi slashes quota

Two-hundred Maldivians will miss out on the annual Hajj pilgrimage this year after the Saudi Arabian government reduced the quota for Maldives from 1,000 to 800.

Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said at a press conference yesterday (June 17) that the Saudi government communicated the decision to the ministry this week.

According to local media reports, Shaheem explained that the Saudi government reduced the quota as a result of ongoing work to expand the area around the Kaaba in Mecca.

Consequently, Shaheem added, only 22,000 people would be able to perform the tawaf (circling the Kaaba) in one hour compared to 48,000 in the past.


Four MTCC harbour projects stalled over lack of construction material

The Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) has suspended harbour projects on four islands over the lack of construction material.

The government-owned public company said in a press release today that construction has stalled in Noonu Manadhoo, Shaviyani Komandoo, Raa Ungoofaru and Faafu Feeali as the remaining work required reinforcement rock boulders or conglomerate.

“Continuing such large projects while conglomerate is not available from India has resulted in a more than 100 percent increase in the price of materials as well as many logistical difficulties,” the press release stated.

It added that the company won the bids for the harbour projects based on the prices of construction material available from India at the time.

“In the past three months, the company has tried in various ways to purchase aggregate. At the same time, the company is also working with all the institutions involved in this matter to speedily resolve this issue,” the press release concluded.

On February 15 this year, the Indian government revoked a special quota afforded to the Maldives for the import of aggregate and river sand. The move led to a shortage of the supply of construction material and subsequent rising costs for construction companies.

The Indian government’s decision followed a diplomatic row with Maldives over the current administration’s termination of a concession agreement with Indian infrastructure GMR to upgrade and develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

In December last year, Indian authorities also tightened visa restrictions for providing medical visas to Maldivians, leading to people queuing outside the Indian High Commission to obtain visas to travel for medical treatment.

In some instances, local people complained of queuing for over 24 hours outside the High Commission’s building in Male’ to try and get a limited number of daily tokens.


Government not lifting expat worker limits, HR minister claims

Minister of Human Resources Hassan Lateef, has denied that the government has loosened quotas on the hiring of expatriate workers like domestic servants, claiming regulatory reforms published last week had been designed to try “simplify” hiring foreigners.

Lateef told Minivan News that under new reforms, organisations or individuals wanting to hire expatriates would no longer have to apply for a quota before completing a separate application for a work permit, as part of attempts to make hiring foreign staff easier for employees and employers alike.

The minister added that the amendments, expected to be in place from next week, would continue to permit eligible households to hire a single domestic servant only.

“Some media outlets have been reporting that the government has removed quotas on certain expatriate workers, but this is not the idea at all,” he claimed.

Newspaper Haveeru reported today that amendments had been put forward in the government gazette on Thursday (March 26) to lift quota limits on expatriate employees hired to work either for government authorities, or as volunteer social workers or domestic servants.

Lateef claimed that the published reforms represented a procedural change for the Ministry of Human Resources due to concerns that the additional requirements of imposing a quota system on foreign workers was “totally unnecessary” alongside the existing work permit system.

The minister claimed that the process of an employer having to apply for a separate staff quota had made it difficult to replace expatriate staff such as domestic help quickly.

“There is no point in having too many layers in terms of [hiring] procedure. When it comes to household staff, it can be difficult to replace expatriate workers quickly,” he said. “Yet each household can still apply for only one domestic servant. This criteria is exactly the same as before the amendments were put forward.”

After being published in the government gazette, Lateef said that the amendments were expected to come into place next week.

With these amended regulations coming into place within 15 days of their gazette publication, the minister said he believed that collaboration would be needed with other official bodies such as the Department of Immigration and Emigration to oversee the measures.

Immigration issues

Just last month, the Maldives’ Controller of Immigration told Minivan News that the country needed to address its failure in not having adopted a national immigration policy to protect and control an expatriate workforce, which he estimated to at least equal the number of domestic labourers.

Controller Abdulla Shahid said at the time that that a lack of immigration controls or quota policy in the Maldives had left valuable foreign workers vulnerable to “inhumane” treatment from unscrupulous employers once they had legitimately arrived in the country.

Lateef said that in considering these apparent issues with immigration control in the country, he accepted that the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports would need to work collaboratively with fellow ministries over the changes.

“One cannot separate the issue of hiring expatriate workers between the immigration department and human resources officials. Like with any foreign workers, in hiring domestic servants we do have some [immigration] problems, which is why both systems should be linked,” he said.

Lateef claimed that there was significant work to be done with implementing the new regulations therefore, potentially requiring some additional policy changes to be made by the Department of Immigration and Emmigration.

However, speaking about the amendments to hire expatriate workers and replace the previous quota systems, Immigration Controller Shahid said today that he saw the new system as nothing more than a procedural change that would not significantly impact border control.

Although the changes to the quota requirements were likely to put more responsibility on labour authorities at the Ministry of Human resources, Shahid claimed the system was expected to make hiring expatriate domestic servants a “bit easier” in the country in the future.