Thousands sign petition over resort workers’ pay, conditions

A petition calling for sweeping changes to resort employees’ working conditions and a minimum wage has collected two thousand signatures during its first five days.

The Tourism Employees’ Association of Maldives, which launched the petition, said it had amassed signatures from workers on 17 resorts since last Wednesday.

“Signing for new hopes and rights,” the group said on its Facebook page. “Keep going [with] the great work of humankind.”

The petition demands a minimum monthly wage of US $600 across the sector through an amendment to the Employment Act.

There is currently no minimum wage and the petition says that wage rates have not increased in the sector for 10 years.

The workers are also asking for quotas to require 80 per cent of tourism employees in the country to be Maldivian, which would require big changes in the hiring practices of resorts.

Current laws require 50 per cent of resort employees to be Maldivians, but the rule is not widely enforced. The sector employs some 11,426 Maldivians and 16,342 expatriate workers, meaning that overseas employees constitute 59 per cent, according to preliminary figures for the 2014 census.

TEAM also wants the president to honour a pledge to make shares in resorts available to their rank-and-file employees, a rarity in a country where resorts are generally owned by private companies controlled by a few individuals.

In February 2014 President Abdulla 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 stakeholders.

The president said that share ownership would be a “lucrative addition to their current income from salary and other perks through employment at these resorts”, according to a press release issued at the time.

Speaking at the opening of the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi resort, Yameen also said the Sun Travel resort group would float up to 40 percent of its shares to employees in the coming years.

However, the pledge of shares for resort employees has not so far become a reality.

The petition also asks for a 12 per cent service charge to be applied and for 99 per cent of that to be distributed “fairly” among tourism employees, as set out in the Employment Act.

TEAM’s supporters are seeking the right to form a union, as set out in the constitution, and the right to protest in resorts, which was banned in 2012 under the Freedom of Assembly Act.

The law says that protests can only be held in resorts and in air and sea ports after a special permit from the police based on the advice of the military, but TEAM cites the constitution’s guarantee of the right to peaceful protest.

Over the past few years, resort workers have occasionally tried to launch protests.

Workers who had been fired from Sheraton’s Maldives luxury resort for demanding union recognition protested near the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort and Spa in February, according to the website of the International Union Federation.

Carrying banners with slogans such as “Sheraton fully booked — no room for human rights”, the dismissed workers carried out a boat picket around the resort, while employees came to the beach and waved in support.

In February 2013, an employee strike in Vaavu Atoll Alimathaa resort resulted in 27 employees being fired by management.

According to Haveeru, Ahmed Adeeb, the tourism minister, said at the time that protests in resorts would affect tourists both directly and indirectly.

“Such things must not be encouraged by anyone. Especially when it is something banned by law, it must not happen. No one should encourage or give room for such things,” Adeeb said.

Officials from the Tourism Ministry were unavailable for comment at the time of press.

On Thursday, about 50 employees from the international airport in Seenu atoll Gan protested over a new salary structure which they said would result in lower pay than before. They stopped protesting when management agreed to return to the previous wage structure.


Over 60 resort workers on Randheli island rushed to hospital with severe food poisoning

Over 60 people working on construction of a resort on Randheli island have been rushed to hospital today after suffering from severe food poisoning.

According to an official from Noonu Atoll Regional Hospital on Manadhoo island, the resort workers currently receiving treatment at the hospital today mostly included expatriate workers from Bangladesh and India.  A few Maldivians were also said to be admitted, according to the hospital source.

The official said that they started receiving the sick resort workers with food poisoning at around 2pm.  A few workers were taken to health centres on nearby islands as the hospital was overwhelmed by the sudden surge of patients.

Extra beds and blankets were provided in order to hospitalise the sick resort workers after the 18-bed site found itself at maximum capacity, the hospital source added.

“All of them were diagnosed with food poisoning. They were vomiting, having severe headache and stomach pain and some were suffering loose motions as well,” the official explained.

It is unknown how the resort workers came down with food poisoning.  The resort, according to local media reports, is being developed for Louis Vuitton Moet et Chandon Hennessey (LVMH). The resort developer was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

The hospital official said; “some patients are saying they got sick after eating a fish, possibly rotten.”

He added that none of the resort workers are now in serious condition, but were being kept under observation.

In a statement, the Maldives Police Service said it had assisted with transporting the affected workers to hospital for treatment.


Four Seasons bemoans lack of female involvement in record apprentice intake

The Four Seasons Hotels group has said it is taking on a record number of apprentices at its Maldives resorts over the next twelve months – despite still facing challenges in attracting local women to work in the tourism industry.

At a ceremony held at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel in Malé this morning, 34 graduates were honoured for completing twelve month training courses in specific hospitality areas such as housekeeping and guest management, food preparation, marine transportation and watersports.

The hospitality group, which operates both the Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru and Four Seasons Resort Kuda Huraa properties in the Maldives, is taking on 60 apprentices during the next year – a company record.

Speaking at the ceremony, Armando Kraenzlin, Regional Vice President and General Manager for Four Seasons Resorts in the Maldives, said that while “interest and the ambition to learn” was growing amongst the Maldivian workforce, encouraging women to come and work was, if anything, more difficult.

“We would ask the government, help us get more girls [into the scheme] in future,” he said. “ It has got harder today than a few years ago and that can’t be right.”

While supporting the work of groups like Four Seasons in training local staff to take up more specialised positions in the country’s resort industry, one body representing Maldivian tourism workers has called on the private sector and the government to reconsider how the current curriculum prepares school leavers for a career in the hospitality industry.

From the perspective of the Four Seasons’ operations, Armando Kraenzlin today said that schemes such as its graduate programme were vital to a company continuing to try and drive innovation across its 86 hotel operations. However, he claimed the training programmes were not without challenges.

“This year we lost one member [of the graduate program] after twelve hours,” he said.

Kraenzlin said that confusion had arisen after the staff member had not realised that they had agreed not to smoke on the resort as part of their contract, a commitment the person was unable to fulfil.

Applicant hunger

However, the company claimed that with some 500 applicants looking to fill just 60 apprenticeship spaces this year – there was a clear hunger and demand for training positions such as these in the tourism industry.

“People have travelled 16 hours by boat to come to sit interviews here in Male’ with us,” Kraenzlin said, a development he claimed demonstrated the commitment of staff to obtain places on the graduate scheme.

During today’s ceremony, Four Seasons claimed that as part of this year’s graduate class, an additional discipline call “international conversations” was being taught in order to help staff communicate with an increasingly diverse customer based including guests from China, Korea and Russia.

Beyond just learning language, the company claimed the course was designed to provide an understanding of these nations’ history, culture and even cuisine.

For the year ahead, Kraenzlin said the company was also currently working on launching a prototype engineering course.

“We know that Maldivians are tech-savvy, as well as engineering-savvy,” he said.

Kraenzlin added that with the company’s graduate scheme now in its eleventh year, the program was very much “here to stay”.  Yet he called on the government, represented by Education Minister Asim Ahmed in the audience, to help to strengthen the training the company provided to local workers.

“We are inviting the government to tell us how to do this better. Who knows, maybe we will have one class who makes it to the finish-line without any casualties during the year,” he said, referring to previous applicants who had dropped out from the course.

Education Ministry

In addressing Kraenzlin’s invite, Education Minister Asim said that Four Seasons was an “important partner” in regards to education and training in the country, especially for helping to bridge skills gaps in the current curriculum.

“There is a shortage of skills in the country that is a major challenge needing to be addressed,” he said.

With tourism being one of the most significant contributors to the nation’s economy, Asim welcomed the work of resort groups such as Four Seasons in helping the ongoing development of the national work force.

“I am personally a major supporter of linking with the private sector with schemes such as this,” he said.

TEAM view

In addressing Four Seasons’ commitments to staff training, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM), which aims to represent local workers’ rights in hospitality, said it was ultimately encouraged by the apprenticeship programmes ran by the multinational group.

TEAM’s Secretary General Mauroof Zakir, who was himself a graduate of Four Season’s training programme between 2004 and 2005, believed such programs were a huge benefit to the local workforce.

“From my personal understanding, the Four Seasons graduate program is one of the best. When I did the programme, I really didn’t know anything about the resort industry before going in,” he said. “When I came out, I had a much greater understanding of the work environment, though I don’t know how the program has changed since.”

Despite welcoming the graduate scheme, Zakir claimed that more needed to be done by both the government and the tourism industry to provide greater practical experiences of the resort industry to school students.

“Both resort management and the government need to look at providing more practical experiences for students of resort life,” he said. “We need to look at changes to the curriculum to get more visits to resorts. School leavers should have a much better understanding of how resorts work.”

While Zakir said he was aware of several high-end multinational resort chains providing training programs for local workers, he believed many locally-owned resorts, usually targeted at more mid-market tourism, needed to do more with their respective training schemes.

TEAM said it was not presently involved in helping outline training programs, adding that it did not receive much information from either the government or industry regarding existing projects.  However,  with an organisational mandate to try and increase the capacity of Maldivian workers in the tourism industry, the organisation claimed it would be open to playing a role in the development of future vocational training for local people.

Female worker challenge

In addressing Four Seasons’ concerns about a short-fall in the number of Maldivian women coming to work at the country’s resorts, Zakir said he believed there were several issues affecting local recruitment of females into the hospitality sector.

“Groups like Four Seasons have been trying hard to get local women to work at its resorts.   But we don’t see much improvement in the number of women workers.” he said.

Zakir claimed that more “extremist” views had been “widely spreading” around the country in recent years, creating additional social problems in encouraging female workers to come and work in hospitality.

To try and counter these messages, TEAM said that it was vital to communicate with schools and parents that resorts were not a threatening environment for women to work at.

While there had been concerns in the past involving allegations of sexual harassment against female staff, Zakir stressed that local women should not be discouraged from seeking employment on resorts.

“We need more local women working on resorts right now,” he said. “An estimated 300 to 400 Maldian women are currently thought to be working in hospitality at resorts. This is a very small amount.”

In terms of practical ways to encourage a greater number of female staff, Zakir suggested resorts could provide more regular transportation to and from resort islands as one possible solution. Such a measure, he claimed, could allow female staff to commute to work more regularly, allowing more contact with their families at home.


TEAM calls on government to hasten introduction of minimum wage at Rf5000

The Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) has urged the government to implement a minimum wage, to address a growing gap between the rich and poor.

“TEAM believes that the most important thing to do in order to change the current situation of all persons working in the tourism industry is to implement a minimum wage,’’ said the organisation.

‘’A minimum wage is also important to avoid the potential bankruptcy of small and medium businesses and to eliminate the differentiation between the rich and poor.’’

TEAM urged the government to conduct a fair survey and to determine an adequate minimum wages, “instead of only listening to few influential big businessmen.’’

TEAM claimed the minimum wage for those working in the tourism sector should be at least Rf 5000 (US$325) per month.

Vice President of TEAM Maurrof Zakir said that Rf5000 for resort workers was determined after taking into considering the GDP of the country, salaries of civil servants and the amount of money tourism resorts make per month.

‘’Usually a tourism resort makes US$2-3 million every month,’’ he said.  “But only US$200, 000 at the most is the amount spent on wages. Our estimates do not show that the tourist resorts will suffer any loss by paying their staff a minimum wage of Rf 5000 per month.’’

He also recommended the government  set the minimum wage differently for each sectors.

In last week’s radio address, President Mohamed Nasheed promised that the government would set a minimum wage this year to ensure a decent living.

In January this year, a bill governing the minimum wage of people employed in the Maldives was sent to parliament by MDP Parliamentary Group Leader ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik.

“It is important for everyone working in the Maldives to be certain of the minimum wage that can be given to them – that is a right of every citizen. That’s why this bill is being drafted,” Moosa said.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Workers’ group hopes for strike bill committee amendments

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) claims it remains hopeful that the passing of a bill to the National Security Committee regulating industrial action by resort workers can still be amended from its current form.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Easa, president of TEAM, told Minivan News that the worker’s group was now waiting to see if amendments relating to the bill made during the committee hearing would address concerns realting to the impact on the right to strike.

In August, the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) submitted the bill to parliament aimed to regulate industrial action conducted by employees in the Maldives, shortly after a strike at Kurumba resort reduced occupancy to zero.

Parliamentary debate over the bill has obtained both fierce opposition and support from figures across the lucrative tourist industry over arguments that current unregulated strike action is detrimental to travel income.

While Easa claims to be in support of a bill that would provide rules and regulations outlining how workers should conduct strike action, the MP believes the current bill is not such a document, but rather “is mainly drafted to stop strikes.”

The MP argues that the bill in its current form would be unconstitutional and contravene article 31 of the constitution that gives Maldivians the right to strike and article 16 relating to human rights.

It is these arguments that TEAM will hope to pursue in the committee in a bid to amend the bill to set out regulations that it would be willing to back in realation to acceptable strike practice.

The TEAM President claims that he remains more in hope, than optimism that changes will be made to the bill, alleging possible vested resort industry interests within the committee that spans numerous political parties including the MDP and the opposition.

However, should the bill return to the Majlis unchanged, Easa claims he would notify both the President’s Office and the international community in the form of organisations and political bodies like the UN and EU about his concerns.

“The bill is totally against democracy,” he adds. “What we are looking for are regulations that accept that there has to be a reason to strike, and this is how it should be done.

Secretary General of industry body the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), Sim Mohamed Ibrahim, said that the organisation, which reprsents a number of the country’s major resort groups, were not looking to prevent strikes. However, he added that the association was looking to prevent strikes from taking place directly on private resort property.

“No striking on the resort is a fundamental right of the owner,” he said. “You don’t strike on the shop floor.”

Sim added that although there may be reasons for workers to strike, these points should not be made in a manner that “inconveniences tourists”. The Secretary General added that this stance need not preclude striking in different environments to the resort.


New Strike Act “terrifying”, say visiting IUF representatives

The International Union of Food workers [IUF] has expressed concern over the government’s new strike regulation at a joint press conference held by the IUF and the Tourism Employment Association of the Maldives (TEAM) today.

Dr Jasper Gross, Information Research Officer of the IUF, said that the new regulations – which requires staff to provide advance notice to employers of any strike action and not to inconvenience guests – violates the constitution of the Maldives. The regulation, if enacted, would contravene decisions of the ILO in regard to the rights of workers to strike.”

The Maldives became a member and accepted the obligations of the ILO constitution last year, becoming the 183rd member of the organisation..

‘’The new legislation is just a birthday gift from the Ministry of Human Resources Youth and Sports to employers,’’ said Dr Jasper. “It is a terrifying Act.”

Dr Jasper stressed that it was “remarkable” how many loopholes were in the regulations, “that basically mean workers cannot strike.”

“We are very very concerned about the new regulations,’’ he repeated.

In August, the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) submitted a bill to parliament regulating industrial action conducted by employees in the Maldives, shortly after a strike at Kurumba resort reduced occupancy to zero.

Regional Secretary for IUF Asia Pacific, Ma Wei Pin, also described the new regulations as effectively banning workers from striking, which he believed “violates a basic right of workers”.

“Employers need to respect the rights of the worker, the resort management should accept the local trade union TEAM, and resolve these issues fairly,’’ said Ma Wei. “The suppression of the right of to strike is not helpful.’’

Ma Wei said banning strikes would be an obstacle to establishing a sustainable tourism industry in the country.

“The government needs to encourage workers and resort managements to deal with the trade unions, and urgently needs to deliver laws against the discrimination of trade unions,’’ he said.

Vice Pressident of TEAM Mauroof Zakir said the organisation had never initiated a strike, but only assisted when resort workers took the decision to strike themselves.

“We will stand against these new regulations, and we will bring this issue to the attention of the international community and trade unions,’’ said Mauroof.

Asked whether TEAM’s impartiality was subject to compromise because its President, Ahmed Easa, was also a ruling party MP,  Mauroof insisted Easa was not influenced.

“We are controlled by the resort workers,’’ he explained, “and what Easa is doing in parliament is trying to protect the rights of labors.’’

Ma Wei said the IUF will draw the attention of the government to the fact that the new regulations on striking were inconsistent with the ILO convention.

‘’Everywhere else in the world, when a strike is conducted the customers are inconvenienced,” he said. “But we should also know that strikes have to be conducted due to the carelessness of the management.”

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

Strike action

In February this year management at the Centara Grand Island Resort in North Ari Atoll increased the service charge allocated to staff after workers held a strike.

A staff member told Minivan News that the staff held the strike because they were not receiving the service charges agreed them by management, adding that the management had persisted in giving them the lower amount “claiming that the room revenue was very low.”

On April 14 staff at Shangri-La were dismissed after they conducted a strike demanding to reinstate the job of four villa hosts, who were dismissed for playing PlayStation inside a vacant guest room.

More recently in August, more than 150 Maldivian and expatriate staff working at the Kurumba Maldives resort conducted a strike, demanding improvement of staff facilities.

A striking staff member told Minivan News that the 157 staff were striking over “low wages, pathetic accommodation, awful food, communication barriers between staff and management, and discrimination between local and foreign staff.”