Seven staff at the Maldives Ports Ltd (MPL) were suspended from their jobs at the state company for participating in protests held by ousted Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP), a source in the company has confirmed.
Six of the staff have returned to work, while 40 year-old laborer Nizam Abdulla remains suspended.
MPL officials told Nizam they had pictures of him protesting and causing damage to state property outside President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s residence of Hilaaleege, and told him he was suspended for violating the company’s code of conduct. He was then asked to write a letter of apology to the company’s new assistant CEO, Ahmed Faiz.
Nizam described himself as a prominent MDP activist, but denied being present during MDP protests at Hilaaleege. Further, he said he had attended MDP’s protests while on annual leave.
The MDP alleges President Waheed came to power through a coup d’état on February 7 and are holding daily protests calling for fresh elections.
“I was on holiday. I was not in uniform, I was not on duty. I have the right to go wherever I want and I have the right to express myself. They are doing this to me because I support the MDP,” he said.
The father of four children said he is yet to receive any official communication regarding his suspension, and does not know how long the suspension is to last.
MPL Media Coordinator Ibrahim Rilwan confirmed Nizam’s suspension, but said he did not know the specifics regarding the case. The code of conduct does not prohibit participation in political activities, but staff can be disciplined if they transgress good behavioral norms, he added.
The Maldives Ports Ltd manages Malé city’s sea port and is a state owned company. The Supreme Court in August 2011 struck down a clause in the Civil Service Act banning civil servants from participating in political activities, stating the clause infringed upon citizen’s right to participate in political activities as enshrined in the constitution.
“What right does MPL have?”
When Nizam returned to work on April 23, after a month on annual leave, two guards escorted him off the ship he was working on.
“They told me I was not allowed on the office premises any longer. There was a picture of me in the guard house. The next day, my cards were deactivated and I can’t enter the office now,” Nizam told Minivan News.
He is unable to file a complaint with the Labor Tribunal which oversees Employment Act violations because he does not have any official communication regarding his suspension yet.
Nizam said he had been told over the phone not to return to work while he was on annual leave. “There was no warning. I do not see a phone call as a warning,” he said.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said. “This doesn’t just affect me, it affects my wife and four children. What right does MPL have to do this to me?”
Nizam has been working at MPL for six years now.
MPL’s spokesperson Rilwan said the company has asked staff not to participate in political activities while in uniform and on duty. However, the code of conduct does not forbid participation in politics, and no staff have been disciplined for political activities yet, Rilwan claimed.
“The code of conduct says disciplinary measures can be taken against staff if a member of the staff violate norms of good behavior within and outside the office, but I do not know if this is the case with Nizam,” Rilwan said.
“We are not MPL slaves”
An MPL staff member who wished to remain anonymous said a further six staff at MPL were also suspended for two days in March following MDP’s March 19 protests which sought to obstruct President Waheed from addressing parliament’s opening session.
“MPL senior officials want to make sure their staff do not attend protests. Nizam’s suspension is intended as a warning to everyone else,” he told Minivan News.
“We are not MPL’s slaves. The constitution guarantees us freedom of expression. We have the right to go wherever we want and express ourselves when we are not in uniform on duty,” he added.
Another staff, who also wished to remain anonymous, said he too had been warned by his directors not to attend MDP protests. Furthermore, he said he has not yet seen the company’s code of conduct.
“They do not share the code of conduct when they recruit you. I have not seen this, I don’t think anyone has. I don’t even know what it says,” he said.
“A lot of MPL staff are MDP supporters. So the senior staff send people to MDP protests to monitor and take pictures of who attends. The whole point of this is intimidation,” he said.