President asks Teachers Association for proposal to address grievances

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) met President Abdulla Yameen on Wednesday (September 24) to discuss pay rises and education sector reform after a calling off a planned nationwide strike.

TAM informed local media following the one-hour meeting at the President’s Office that the president listened to teachers’ concerns and asked for a proposal on addressing grievances about pay and other issues.

The proposal on increasing salary for teachers and improving efficiency in the education sector would be submitted next month following consultation with the education ministry, TAM said.

The response from President Yameen was “positive” and TAM received assurances that a pay rise would be considered.

“The government’s decision to sit for talks and compile a timeline [on meeting the demands] is a sign President Yameen himself attended to the teacher’s demands,” TAM President Athif Abdul Hakeem told Minivan News on Sunday (September 21) after teachers went on to work dressed in black.

The Ministry of Education had earlier appeared unwilling to give in to teachers’ demands for higher pay and reform, while the Labor Relations Authority reportedly labelled the proposed strike as ‘not peaceful’.

A statement from the Civil Service Commission meanwhile noted that government was treating the potential strike as illegal.

Grievances raised by TAM include revised pay, protection of teachers and students, and official recognition of the association.


Teachers Association calls an indefinite strike on Tuesday

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) has announced an indefinite strike starting on this Tuesday (September 23) should the government not meet its demands for reform.

Members at a meeting held in Ameeniyya School on Friday night resolved to stop teaching indefinitely if the government did not adhere to demands which include revised pay, protection of teachers and students, acceptance of TAM, as well as general improvements to the sector.

“Once we strike, there is no turning back. The options are death or success. God willing, we will only stop once we have achieved success,” TAM president Athif Abdul Hakeem said at the meeting.

Teachers will repeat April’s ‘black protest’ by attending work dressed all in black tomorrow (September 21), and have promised to halt lessons on Tuesday if authorities fail to initiate talks by Monday.

“If the [government] does not make use of the opportunity for talks, we will strike indefinitely,” he said.

Despite repeated requests for discussions, the Education Ministry has refused to engage with the TAM, Athif said.

“We have expressed concern over issues in the education sector and called for talks in six different letters. They did not answer any letter or call for talks or give us information. This means they do not accept Maldivian teachers.”

Athif claimed education sector policymakers had deceived President Abdulla Yameen of the issues facing the education sector, and said he had hope Yameen would address the challenges.

“President Yameen does not know of the issues we teachers face. President Yameen has been deceived. Appointed leaders are showing him a different picture.”

The association has threatened direct action on a number of occasions in recent months.

“We are only asking to be treated fairly. There already is a huge gap between teachers’ pay and the pay for less qualified persons doing less work in other institutions. And now they have increased pay for some,” he told Minivan News in February.

“This is about their children’s rights, improving the education sector is a national issue. The less we spend on this sector, the more we will have to spend on prisons. But if parents don’t act, and if the government refuse to act, we will go on strike. But only as a last resort,” said Athif.

Prior to April’s demonstration, the government reportedly refuted the claims made by the Teacher’s Association, warning against any activities that might negatively affect students.

Athif has previously noted his organisation’s desire to continue teaching until all other options had been exhausted.

Other major issues raised by TAM have concerned improving the education sector and the quality of services provided. According to the association, qualified young graduates are turning away from the sector due to poor pay and working conditions.

In February the organisation also released a report titled, ‘Education sector in a deep pit’ which highlighted the state’s perceived “total disregard” towards the sector.

The report stated that 60% of schools in the Maldives are run without a principal, contrasting reduced spending on education with significant increases in areas such as the military, political posts, and independent institutions.

Individual teachers have highlighted insufficient overtime pay, overdue salaries, inadequate resources. and poor government oversight as major issues of concern,


Three dismissed in ongoing strike at Palm Beach Resort

Three senior staff at Palm Beach Resort in Lhaviyani Atoll have been dismissed after 50 staff staged a strike over alleged discriminatory polices at the resort.

According to a staff member on strike at Palm Beach, 50 housekeeping and food and beverage personnel at the resort stopped work at 10:00pm on Tuesday night following a public dispute between General Manager Fabrizio Dani and Restaurant Manager Ali Ashraf.

“We are calling for the removal of general manager from the resort also calling for an end to discriminatory policies between the European and Maldivian staff here,” Ahmed Abdulla told Minivan News.

He claimed the Maldivian staff were fed poor quality food compared to their European colleagues and said the management had failed to provide adequate arrangements for breakfast during Ramadan.

“We were not even given dates to break our fasts,” he said. “We will continue with our strike until demands are met.”

There have been no negotiations between the workers on strike and the management yet, Abdulla said.

In addition to Ashraf, Assistant Manager Ilyas Ibrahim and Supervisor Abdulla Mohamed were dismissed last night. The three have now left the resort.

Speaking to Minivan News, Ashraf said his dismissal had been “unfair.” He alleged the management of Palm Beach resort employed Russians, Italians, and Bangladeshi workers without work visas.

He also claimed the resort’s management had failed to sign employment contracts with the staff and were not paid for overtime work.

Minivan News was unable to contact either Fabrizio Dani or Palm Beach Resort despite repeated attempts.

In March, 18 members of staff at Vilu Reef Resort were fired after a petition detailing grievances. Workers at Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) also staged a strike in the same month over low quality of food and cuts to annual bonus pay outs.

Maldivian staff at One and Only Reethi Rah also held a strike in January over alleged ill-treatment by the management.

In a similar case in September 2013, staff at Irufushi Beach and Spa resort reported a “firing spree” affecting staff members professing to support the Maldivian Democratic Party.

According to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act 2013, tourist resorts, ports, and airports fall into a category of places in which protests are prohibited.


MCSA calls off strike, to submit a petition instead

Maldives Civil Servants’ Association (MCSA) has called off the nationwide civil servants’ strike planned for April 20, deciding instead to submit a petition with its concerns, Vnews has reported today.

Quoting MCSA President, the report said the decision was made to prevent any difficulties it may cause to the public after consulting with senior members of the association and relevant government offices.

The petition which is being signed through social media website Facebook, is reported to have already received the signatures of fifty percent government employees.

It is expected to be submitted to the relevant offices on April 20 – the date previously set for the strike.


Taxi drivers protest against implementation of new regulations

Taxi drivers in Malé are today protesting against what they regard as “strict” and unfair new regulations which were to be implemented today.

Key concerns raised by participants included the issue of ‘taxi-top’ vacancy signs, and not having similar legislation for all land transport, including lorries and pickups.

Many held placards with statements such as ‘Insurance is useless’, ‘Establish equal policies for all land transport’, ‘Stop making medical reports of drivers, stop requesting police records of drivers’, and ‘Stop enslaving drivers’.

State Minister for Transport Ahmed Zubair has argued that drivers and taxi centers were consulted throughout the process and that their concerns were addressed.

Protesters demanded a change the regulation and called for the Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim’s resignation.

The protest began this morning as a strike, and later turned in to a protest march with taxi drivers taking to voice their concerns.

Some taxi drivers who maintain the regulations are reasonable, refused to take part in the protest – continuing their service through out the day – were threatened by the protesters.

The Maldives Police Service confirmed reports of threats to taxi centers, and said that two people were arrested from the protest – one for trying to attack a police officer and obstructing police, the other person for stopping a taxi on the street.


A general statement written by protesters said the purpose of the protest was to oppose “the creation of strict regulations to make things difficult particularly for taxi drivers, and forcing to follow such regulations.”

Some drivers argued that the ministry should ensure the vacancy boards that fit their standards are available in the Maldives, noting that attaching such a board requires drilling a hole on top of the cars.

State Minister Zubair today said that the implementation of the whole regulation will not be delayed any further, saying that the ministry was not specifically targeting the taxi drivers, but was planning to introduce similar regulations for bus services and another for resolving the issue of parking.

Responding to the complaints about the vacancy signs, the minister said that magnetic boards were available and that, in order to give more time for taxis, the ministry has given another month (till May 15) to fix the boards.

He said the regulation would also allow for the penalisation of those taxis who do not provide the service.

Police today announced that action will be taken against those violating the new regulations – with the exception of the vacancy board placement – starting today.

Meanwhile Maldivian Red Crescent has announced that their medical emergency vehicles will be available for emergency transport during the taxi drivers’ strike. MRC transport contact number is 7917009.


Civil Servants’ Association plans strike over pay discrepancies

Maldives Civil Servants’ Association is planning to go on strike within the month, local news outlet CNM has reported.

Quoting the association’s President Mohamed Shaugee, CNM said that the strike is largely a result of discrepancies in pay among various state institutions which are disadvantageous to civil servants – particularly in comparison to independent state institutions.

“There is a huge difference in take home pay for civil servants and those working in other institutions. But Article 4 of the Employment Act and article 37 (b) of the constitution says there cannot be any discrimination,” Shaugy said.

He said that the issues have been raised for six consecutive years and that even the Civil Service Commission accepted that these issues needed to be addressed.

“I don’t want to make this political, but we still haven’t received an answer for our letter requesting to discuss this issue with President Abdulla Yameen,” Shaugee was quoted as saying.

Yesterday, a large number of teachers participated in a ‘black protest’ to bring their issues to public attention. The Maldives Teachers Association (MTA) which organised the protest after the government ignored several attempts to discuss the issues said it was just a first step in taking action.

The MTA have also threatened to go on strike over various issues in education sector – also including pay discrepancies – but has said it would only take such action as a last resort.

There are more than 25,000 civil servants in the Maldives.


Ongoing strike at Vilu Reef resort sees 18 staff fired

Vilu Reef resort has allegedly terminated 18 members of staff, with some given just one hour to leave, after employees had presented management with a list of grievances.

Speaking with Minivan News, Ahmed Rasheed – a Vilu Reef employee for two years before his dismissal yesterday – described his termination:

“They sent me with 5 police guards into my room. They locked the door and asked me to pack within one hour.”

Vilu Reef is part of the Sun Travel & Tours group – a company owned by the prominent businessman and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam.

After compiling a list of grievances against the resort, Rasheed explained that he had prepared a petition on which he managed to get 153 signatures from fellow staff.

He recalled that the demands were then presented to the hotel management on March 17, who came back to the employees, suggesting “if you don’t want to stay here you can leave.”

After conferring with the staff team, employees then decided to strike, stated Rasheed, with around 50 resort employees congregating at around 11pm with their demands on Sunday (March 23).

The management called police, but assured staff that no would be terminated, said Rasheed. They agreed to carry out amendments to meet the requests as of the April 30, he added, “so the next day we went back to work.”

“I was fired after two days,” continued Rasheed. “They just give me a call and said ‘hey can you come to the office’, then they gave me a letter. They asked me to sign.”

According to Rasheed’s termination contract, the reason Vilu Reef fired him was because his post was no longer available.

The termination letter stated that the employees were being fired due to their posts “being made redundant” and were asked to leave with “immediate effective (sic) of March 25”.

The letter acknowledges that there should be one month’s notice for the termination of staff, and therefore the management “have decided to as an extra measure compensation payment in lieu of three months notice period.”

The next steps, according to Rasheed, are being supported by the Tourism Association of Maldives (TEAM).

“We are not a member of TEAM but we are really thanking them for their help. They are helping us to do something good. At least we have some people who are trying to get our rights back.”

Workers’ right to strike

TEAM Secretary General  Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News that TEAM would assist the staff in taking the case to the Employment Tribunal, though felt there would be “no hope” for a fair case.

“Shiyam is very strong here,” he noted, “one of the partners of the government.”

“Since 2012 the decisions are against international standards and international best practice,” he added. “It’s all corrupt judiciary, and high court decisions against employment cases are one of the key factors.”

According to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act 2013, tourist resorts, ports, and airports fall into a category of places in which protests are prohibited.

The US State Department expressed concern about the change in this law in their recently released 2013 Human Rights Report.

Local NGOs Transparency Maldives and the Maldivian Democracy Network have also expressed their concern that the law has impacted upon freedom of peaceful assembly.

No-one from the management team at Vilu Reef was available for comment when contacted by Minivan News.

Earlier this year the prestigious One & Only Reethi Rah resort saw an estimated 90% of its employees partake in an organised strike against perceived ill treatment and discrimination.

The strike was called following the management’s failure to meet employees to discuss concerns regarding discrimination against local workers, and a team of police were dispatched to the resort.

In a similar case in September 2013, staff at Irufushi Beach and Spa resort reported a “firing spree” affecting staff members professing to support the Maldivian Democratic Party.

The resort, which in May 2013 abruptly terminated its agreement with hotel giant Hilton – leading to the overnight resignation of 30 employees – is also part of the Sun Travel group.

A source working at the hotel at the time of publishing stated, “Shiyam took over this resort in what the staff refers to as another coup d’etat at the resort level. Since then we have been gradually stripped of rights we are legally entitled to as citizens of the Maldives.”


Airport staff strike over bad food and bad bonuses

Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) employees working at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) went on strike today over the low quality of food served at the staff cafeteria as well as cuts to the annual company bonus.

The protest began early this morning and continued until around noon. At around 10:30am, the managing director of the company arranged a meeting with a five member group representing staff, as well as with the CEO Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem.

While the protesters estimated that approximately 250 – 300 employs were ready to go on full strike, the situation was resolved following the meeting after employees were assured that solutions would soon be found for all their concerns.

Speaking to Minivan News, one of the five staff negotiators said that the main two demands of the protesters were the improvement of the conditions of the staff restaurant ‘Beach Rest Cafe’, and the resumption of the annual company bonus for employees – which has been “discontinued for the past two years”.

When disbursed by India’s GMR – the previous company that managed the airport – some would receive a bonus of MVR1500 while others would receive as much as MVR30,000, said the staff negotiator.

“It started with the Beach Rest issue. Even today they served rotten curry. This has been going on for a while now. We cant eat the food they prepare,” he explained.

MACL Corporate Communications Manager Hassan Areef said that the situation was resolved shortly after negotiating with protesters.

“Beach Rest is not run by the company, but we will talk to them and address the issue immediately,” he said.

When asked about the company bonus, he said that information would be revealed on that as progress is made, but assured that the company would this issue also.

“When the situation was resolved the staff were happy, they went back to work immediately,” Areef said.

Ibrahim Rasheed, a protester who took part in the dialogue, said that staff were promised the cafeteria issue would be addressed immediately and that another cafeteria would be established within two or three months.

Another protester said that the CEO had assured them the annual bonus would also be arranged shortly.

“He said it will be arranged very soon – as soon as the ongoing audit is completed. We were told that the bonus will be even better than before,” he said.

According to MACL staff concerned about the bonus, the issue has been taken to senior management several times within the past two years without any response.

In 2010, the GMR Male International Airport Pvt Ltd (GMIAL) – a consortium of the Indian GMR Group (77%) and the Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (23%) — was awarded a concession contract to manage the airport for a period of 25 years.

However, President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government prematurely terminated the agreement and the airport was handed over to the 100% government owned MACL in December 2012.

GMR later filed a compensation claim of US$1.4 billion for “wrongful termination”.


Criminal Court staff file complaint over ‘unlawful suspension’

Criminal Court staff suspended following a refusal to work overtime without pay have asked the Department of Judicial Administration to review the court’s ‘unlawful’ decision.

Eleven staff members at the Criminal Court refused to work overtime on February 10 and were suspended on February 13.

The Criminal Court has subsequently decided to close offices after official work hours due to budget restrictions.

The court at the time told the press that it had no funds to pay overtime allowances for employees, and that the Ministry of Finance had not responded regarding the matter. The Civil Court has taken the same measures owing to lack of funds.