Resort workers rally for ‘living wage’

Resort workers staged a rally in Malé today calling on the government to set a US$600 minimum wage and to pass a trade union law to allow collective bargaining.

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) organised the rally after collecting about 7,000 signatures on a petition with five main demands.

“Our campaign calling on the government and resort owners to fulfil our demands will go on, even if, in the process, resorts become unable to operate,” secretary general of the TEAM, Mauroof Zakir, told Minivan News at the rally.

TEAM has circulated the petition in more than 70 of the Maldives’ 108 resorts since April. More than half of the 11,426 Maldivians employed in the multi-billion dollar industry have signed the petition.

The other demands include a mandatory 12 percent service charge, resort shares for workers as pledged by the president, and an 80 percent quota for Maldivians in the tourism industry.

Mauroof said TEAM will present the petition next week to the president’s office, the parliament, the tourism ministry, the economic ministry, the attorney general’s office and the youth ministry.

TEAM has previously warned of strikes if the government does not heed the demands.

About 50 resort workers joined the rally at the artificial beach today. Mauroof said TEAM was satisfied with the turnout and had not planned for most workers to take leave at the same time.

Protesters wore red T-shirts with the demands printed on the back and draped banners that read, “Sustainable tourism = living wage for tourism workers” and “Unfair dismissal = unfair tourism.”

“Our rights are being taken away. Resort owners discriminate between Maldivians and foreigners,” a resort worker at the rally, Abdulla Jaleel Ibrahim, told Minivan News.

“[Foreign workers] get leave to go visit their families whenever they want or to bring them to the resort with a holiday package, whereas local employees have to wait up to eight months even to get a leave. We are not allowed to bring our families there either.”

Adam Hamdhy, who has been working in the tourism industry for 13 years, said resort owners did not care about local staff employed in low paying jobs.

“They don’t care about how room boys and waiters may have to live. I am truly disappointed to note that local resort employees in higher positions are working against the TEAM’s campaign and their colleagues in lower positions,” he said.

Jumhooree Party MP Ali Hussain also attended the rally and encouraged the resort workers not to give up hope or lose focus.

Hussain vowed that he would submit legislation on industrial relations if the government does not heed the demand.

Deputy tourism minister Hussain Lirar previously told Minivan News 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.

The Maldives does not have a policy on minimum wage and setting one will require an amendment to the Employment Act. Current laws meanwhile require 50 percent of resort employees to be local, but the rule is not widely enforced.

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

According to TEAM, US$358 million is transferred out of the country as wages for migrant workers annually.

Mauroof previously said that implementing the quota would help achieve the current administration’s pledge of creating 94,000 new jobs.

Providing shares in resorts to their rank-and-file employees was a campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen. Most resorts in the Maldives are owned by private companies and controlled by a few wealthy 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.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb said the government will announce a model for offering shares to workers before the end of the year.


Government taken hostage by the police and gangs operating in Malé: Nasheed

Maldivian Democractic Party (MDP) President, and former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed accused the government of being taken hostage by the police and the many gangs operating in the capital Malé.

“At the moment, the government has failed in providing a path to bring perpetrators of serious crimes in front of justice,” Nasheed said while speaking at an MDP rally held in the carnival area of the capital last night (October 26).

Nasheed also alleged that four individuals from the MPS Special Operations (SO) unit were behind the recent chopping down of the areca palm trees planted on both sides of the city’s main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu.

“Two nights ago, we saw Maafannu police chase and attack four SO police officers who were wielding machetes around the city. Maafannu police tried to arrest the culprits but the SO officers ran into Iskandhar Koshi where they were protected by SO commander sub-inspector Abdulla Ibrahim,” claimed Nasheed.

Nasheed also criticised the government for its decision to ‘freeze employment’ in an attempt to reduce the ballooning budget deficit.

More than 5000 students are to finish their O levels, said the former president, with a further 2000 completing A levels – suggesting that these groups would be lost to gangs without gainful employment.

“The budget deficit has risen higher than ever before. The government is in huge amounts of debt after selling treasury bills to make ends meet,” continued the MDP leader, referring to the budget deficit which is now believed to exceed MVR4 billion (US$260 million).

He also spoke again of President Abdulla Yameen’s numerous visits to Singapore saying that the President Yameen is carrying out his presidential duties and obligations at a time where the whole country is descending into fear and chaos.

“If President Yameen is ill, we would not criticise these visits. However, the President’s Office has informed the media that the President and the First Lady is in good health, making us question the motive behind trips to Singapore,” said Nasheed.

President Yameen and the first lady have since returned from their unofficial trip.

Nasheed pointed out that the government has taken little to no action when an MDP rally held at Addu City was attacked by masked men wielding batons or when an MDP office in Malé was set on fire by two individuals on motorbikes.

Last night’s rally was held amidst a large number of threats issued against the opposition party. During the party’s last rally in the Malé, MP Eva Abdulla received a message threatening a suicide attack at the next MDP gathering while vowing to ‘fight to the last drop of blood’.

Despite party members continuing to receive threats prior to yesterday’s rally, the event passed without incident. Earlier today (October 26), the MDP held a press conference announcing that over 12,000 new members has signed to the party.


PPM and MDA leadership to host coalition rally in Male’ tonight

The government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has scheduled a “mass rally” for the artificial beach area of Male’ this evening, according to media reports.

PPM representative and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dhunya Maumoon was quoted by Sun Online as stating that the event would be attended by senior party members, as well as representatives from coalition partner, the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA).

The PPM announced earlier this month that it would be forming an alliance with the MDA, headed by MP and resort owner Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam, ahead of the presidential election scheduled for September 7 this year.

MP Shiyam is expected to be in attendance during tonight’s rally, along with PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen and his running mate former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

Party founder and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – Yameen’s half brother – is also expected to attend, according to local media.

PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Nihan was not responding to calls at time of press.


JP claims many more MPs set to join party after presidential election

The Jumhoree Party (JP) has said “many more MPs” are expected to pledge support to its leader, MP Gasim Ibrahim, following the conclusion of the upcoming presidential election – claiming an unspecified number have already pledged to work with the party.

The claims were made as the JP, held its first major event in the capital in order to publicise an election alliance formed with the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).

Minivan News witnessed several thousand people in attendance at yesterday’s event, which saw several speakers including Gasim take to a specially constructed stage to address supporters and confirm that MP Ahmed Rasheed has switched to the party from the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The rally was held in the same location, where the MDP staged a meeting on Monday (August 12) to bring several thousand supporters together both as a show of strength and to commemorate the 12th anniversary of Black Friday in 2004.

Both parties events this week appeared to have been similarly attended, with MDP sources estimating that around 6000 seats had been set out for supporters during its rally.

“Major event”

With the election scheduled for September 7 – three weeks from today – JP Policy Secretary Mohamed Ajmal said that yesterday’s rally was planned as a “major event” to show the support base behind the Jumhoree coalition.

Speaking during the event, Gasim dismissed criticisms of his wealth by rival candidates in the election, adding that none of his competitors could be described as poor men.

He also pledged with his hand on the Quran that he would not take the smallest amount of funds from the public “against the constitution”.

Other speakers during the event slammed former President Mohamed Nasheed, accusing his administration of irreligious policies.

According to customs records for 2011, Gasim’s Villa Hotels chain – including the Royal, Paradise, Sun, and Holiday Island resorts, in 2011 imported approximately 121,234.51 litres of beer, 2048 litres of whiskey, 3684 litres of vodka and 219.96 kilograms of pork sausages, among other commodities restricted to islands classified as ‘uninhabited’ in the Maldives.

Speaking today, Ajmal claimed the party unofficially estimated some 10,000 to 15,000 attended the event, with some 20,000 supporters said to have been invited – although he believed not all had been able to travel from across the country.

He added that the JP had not itself provided boats to bring supporters to Male’ for the rally, opting instead to provide fuel for transportation and some unspecified “facilities” for supporters when they reached the capital.

MP switch

With MP Ahmed Rasheed having now joined the JP, Ajmal claimed that many more parliamentarians were “trying to work” with the party, though declined to give further details to media at time of press.

“These names have not yet been finalised. Because of the political situation at present, we will wait until after the election, though there are many MPs working with us,” he said today.

In the build up to next month’s scheduled voting, Ajmal said the JP had several further campaign plans that would be divulged at a later date.

He added that the JP remained confident it would achieve a comfortable second round election victory should no candidate obtain 51 per cent of the first round of voting.

However, Ajmal said that based on the strength of the country’s internal polling and research, there was growing optimism that Gasim could claim the presidency during the first round on the strength of what it perceived was growing grass roots support across the country.

“Our vice presidential candidate Dr Hassan Saeed said last night that it was reasonable to believe that if we work hard and continue with our great momentum, we might achieve 51 percent [in the first round],” he said.

PPM anticipates two candidate contest

Despite the JP’s confidence ahead of the election, the government-aligned PPM earlier this month maintained that former President Mohamed Nasheed of the MDP and its candidate, Abdulla Yameen, were the only two candidates capable of winning the election.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan at the time dismissed any notion that the JP posed a threat to its own presidential campaign, accusing Gasim of using his financial power to buy support during his campaigning that would not translate to actual votes on polling day.

The MDP meanwhile has this week reiterated its belief that a first round victory was possible, with the PPM receiving the second largest number of votes, while expecting President Dr Mohamed Waheed and Gasim to finish in third and fourth place.

“The PPM I believe will come second because it is led by the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He will obviously have loyal supporters,” MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said this week.

“But it may be a different story when it comes to recruiting their young support base. Apart from Gayoom, both Gasim and even Waheed are using money to get votes.”

Ghafoor described the current election politics as a battle between the past and the future, claiming the MDP’s three opponents were proxies of former President Gayoom’s 30 year reign and had nothing new to offer to the people.

Sources within President Waheed’s ‘forward with the nation’ coalition have over the last week also expressed confidence of being able to obtain a first round election win despite expressing concern over a “money game” it alleged was being played by certain candidates.


PPM schedules Funadhoo island “mega-rally” for Thursday

The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has been campaigning across Shaviyani Atoll this week ahead of attempts to hold a “mega-rally” on the island of Funadhoo on Thursday (June 27).

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan has said that a delegation including party presidential candidate MP Abdullah Yameen and his running mate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed had so far campaigned on six islands in the atoll as part of the week-long trip expected to conclude Friday (June 28).

He said that MP Yameen has been travelling door-to door to meet voters and discuss his plans for economic development should he be voted president during September’s election.

Nihan added that the PPM had pledged would to put a high priority on economic development in Shaviyani Atoll, which he said lacked a regional airport that had in turn limited the local population’s access to the capital and other population centres.

He said that the party was already seeking to negotiate with the government for new resort developments in the atoll to facilitate jobs and economic growth to aid local development.

Nihan said that Funadhoo has traditionally been seen as a stronghold in terms of support for PPM founder and former Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s former party, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – now led by MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

However, he claimed that during the visit, a large number of islanders had expressed support for Gayoom and the PPM, which he founded in 2011 after breaking away from the DRP.


Will form large coalition to “shock” Nasheed if elected: PPM Umar Naseer

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential primary candidate Umar Naseer has revealed he intends to form a multi-party coalition should he win the PPM presidential election.

Speaking at artificial beach on Friday night (March 1) as part of his campaign rally, Naseer announced that a “wide coalition” must be formed in order to defeat the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the elections scheduled for later this year, local media reported.

Latest figures from the political party registry of the Elections Commission (EC) show that PPM currently has 22,765 members signed to its party – 23,769 members less than the MDP’s 46,533 total membership.

“It is not the way these days to do things on your own. If you give me the PPM leadership, I will form a wide coalition, God willing.

“I will attain this country’s power through a coalition that will shock Mohamed Nasheed,” Naseer was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

When Minivan News attempted to contact Umar Naseer today (February 2), his secretary stated: “Umar said we are not sharing any information with Minivan News”.

Speaking at the rally, Naseer claimed that Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) refusal to form a coalition during the second round of the 2008 presidential elections had been a mistake, further claiming that should DRP decided otherwise, the MDP may not have achieved power in 2008.

“It is possible that Mohamed Nasheed could not have been able to get the last three years if the DRP had reached to other parties and formed a coalition.

“It was a strategic mistake we made that day, to not work with parties. PPM shall not make such a mistake,” Naseer said.

The PPM presidential primary candidate claimed there is now a need for leaders to work against the MDP from coming to power, assuring that he will make the effort if he wins the PPM ticket, local media reported.

Last month, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) called on the Elections Commission (EC) to dissolve the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), calling it a “terrorism party”.

“There is the fear that MDP might come to power again. They are planning it very well. They even have the money. They are still a threat.

“This country needs strong leaders. Because this country is still not rid of MDP’s threat. I would like to tell you that if you give me the votes and elect me, I will achieve this for you,” local media reported Naseer as saying.


PPM deny rumours that party called for MDP members to be killed

The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has denied reports it made threats to kill Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members at a party rally last week.

Local media reported that a statement issued by PPM insisted that the party had not incited or called for violence, claiming that the rumours were due to the party’s “increasing popularity”.

According to local media, rumours had spread on social media claiming that PPM MP Shifag Mufeed had called for MDP members to be killed.

In response, PPM noted that Shifag or any other member had not made the comments, adding that the rumour had sparked death threats to Shifaq.


“Come and contest. This time, we will defeat you in a single round”: Nasheed challenges Gayoom

The Maldivian Democratic Party held a several thousand strong rally on Wednesday night despite a police takeover of Usfasgandu, the party’s rally ground in Male’, and a warning from Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Jameel that the police would not allow the rally to be held in the area.

Police cordoned off the main rally ground and surrounding streets, with MDP members and supporters standing just beyond police lines. The rally was held adjacent to the protest site.

Crowds gathered an hour before the scheduled start of the rally and heated verbal exchanges took place between the protestors and approximately thirty police officers at the location. Minivan News observed two protesters being led away by police. However Police Media Official Sub Inspector Hassan Haneef said that no arrests were made in the area.

First a Maldivian, then a police officer

Many speakers at Wednesday night’s rally called on the police to step down and cooperate with the citizens, saying they were “first a Maldivian and then a police officer”.

“You should be ashamed to stay there in uniform when you are being used as political weapons,” said MP Ali Waheed, addressing the police officers.

Former MDP Chairperson Mariya Ahmed Didi called on police to back down, saying the party members would not step back until they had guaranteed their freedoms and rights.

“We don’t care how big a power tries to tell us this is not a coup, whether it be the Commonwealth or the UN. We have no doubts about what we saw with our own eyes. We have no doubts about which shoes, which batons have been beating us,” Mariya said.

“No member of MDP will go back to their homes before we rid this country of this culture of violence.”

Both Mariya and Nasheed stated that the party’s intention was not to protect the rally grounds, but rather the rights of the citizens.

“It is not Usfasgandu that we are trying to defend, nor any other land either. We are here to protect freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to peaceful political activity. We will do this until our last breath,” Nasheed said.

“Take down these police lines,” Nasheed addressed the police. “There is no one in this country who can come out against the citizens of this country, to hold them back or restrict them. I call on the police and soldiers to step back now.”

“Maumoon is deceiving Yameen and Ilyas again”: Nasheed

Nasheed once again accused current President Mohamed Waheed Hassan of participating in planning a coup with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

“There is one thing I must say to my former Vice President Waheed. You cannot forever eat the world with deceit. You can only do so for a short while,” Nasheed said.

“If you think that by taking the lead to plan a coup with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom you people will succeed in getting this country back in your clutches, then you are very much mistaken. We will not let that happen.”

Speaking of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Nasheed said the party was absorbed in in-fighting while MDP was conducting its door-to-door campaign. He alleged that Gayoom was “once again deceiving his brother Abdulla Yameen and brother-in-law Ilyas Ibrahim” by feigning refusal to run in the presidential elections.

“Maumoon has been pulling the wool over Abdulla Yameen’s eyes for a good 15 years now, telling him he won’t be running for president,” Nasheed said.

“He creates rifts between Yameen and Ilyas, and then, in the name of peace making, takes the reigns himself. He has been doing this for ages, and will do so again. Come and contest. We will defeat you again. This time, we will defeat you in a single round,” Nasheed said.

At the end of his speech, Nasheed made reference to the recent allegations plans of assassination plots against him.

“You can plan to poison me, you can plan to shoot me, you can conspire to do anything at all. But the final will is not that of Jameel, Waheed or Saeed. Accept it, the final will is that of Almighty God,” Nasheed said.

“None of you must be mistaken, be it the judges or the police and army. I am repeatedly saying that on the 11th of November 2013, it will once again be me who is sworn in as President of this nation.”

Police have closed off the MDP rally grounds following an order from High Court released Wednesday, stating the area shall be kept under the care of the police and not used for any purpose until the court reaches a verdict on the matter.


Amnesty condemns use of excessive force on demonstrators, following police raid on protest

Amnesty International has condemned the use of excessive force by police against 300 Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters in the Lonuziyaarai Kolhu (tsunami monument area) early on March 7.

The MDP yesterday accused police of attacking demostrators and vandalising the ongoing protest, after they pursued a group of youths to the area suspected of vandalism and threatening police.

During the raid on the MDP camp, “at least six protesters were injured, some seriously, when combined police and military officers attacked around 300 MDP protesters – part of a wider pattern of attacks, documented by Amnesty, on supporters of the political party of the ousted former President Mohamed Nasheed,” the human rights group said in a statement.

One of the victims told Amnesty “[the police] grabbed hold of my hair and pulled me up, shouting they would teach me a lesson for demonstrating against the new President.”

Among the six protesters injured was a 16 year-old boy who was placed in the custody of the Child Protection Unit, said Amnesty. The organisation was refused permission to visit him.

“People who were peacefully exercising their right to protest were beaten on the head with batons, kicked and sprayed with pepper spray. This use of excessive force violates human rights standards,” said Amnesty International’s researcher Abbas Faiz, who is documenting the human rights situation in Maldives.

“The Maldives authorities must clearly announce, and demonstrate, that they do not tolerate retaliatory raids by the police against protesters. Police and military must not act outside the law,” Faiz said.

“When police officers act like political opponents towards demonstrators, they erode respect for the rule of law and cast doubt on their impartiality as officers of justice,” he added.

Amnesty called on police to make public the number of people who had required medical treatment following their arrest.

“Credible sources have told Amnesty that the police and military arrested more than a dozen people during their raid on the MDP rally. They arrested some more people in the hospital after they had gone to receive medical treatment for their injuries. The detainees were taken to police detention centres in Malé, and were later transferred to Dhoonidhoo, an island close to Malé which is the main detention centre.”

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam yesterday told Minivan News that police had pursued a group of young men armed with knives, who had vandalised police stations and threatened officers before retreating to the MDP protest area.

Police stopped at the edge of the open area and requested backup, but by the time it arrived word had spread that police were about to raid the protest site and MDP supporters had arrived to protect the area.

“When police entered the [camp] to arrest the suspects forcefully, everyone in the area became hostile to police. There was a huge confrontation,” Shiyam said added.

“This was a very serious thing and we are sad that it happened,” Shiyam said. “We have no interest in doing anything [to the MDP camp], and we don’t want to have a confrontation. But people are coming out of the area, committing acts of violence, and going back there to hide, which is not something to be accepted.”

Elements of the police and military were complicit in the ousting of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who contends that he was forced to resign by security forces “under duress” in a bloodless coup.