Government to address pay discrepancies as civil servants plan strike action

The Maldives Civil Servants’ Association (MCSA) has discussed a potential strike on April 20 should the government fail to address its concerns – mainly concerning pay discrepancies.

“First we want to find a solution through dialogue with the government. After that, if we have to, we will go on strike. And we are confident if we go on strike ninety percent of civil servants will support it,” MCSA President Mohamed Shaugee said.

Stating that the past three governments and parliament should take responsibility for the delay in setting a minimum wage, Shaugee said “the state as a whole has failed”.

President Abdulla Yameen is concerned about the issue of pay discrepancies and will find a solution through discussions with relevant parties, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali has said today.

“This is not a president who makes decisions based on his personal views alone. There will be discussions. The views and sentiments of the civil servants, doctors, and everyone will be considered in reaching a decision in this matter,” said Muaz.

Civil Servants’ Strike

“Even the Civil Service Commission has failed to protect the rights of civil servants and ensure there is no discrimination [with regards to pay],” said the MCSA’s Shaugee.

“We have discussed this with them, and they said they are working on resolving it. But it is hard to believe as we have been talking about this for the past six years.”

Responding to the civil servants’ plans to go on strike, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) issued a press release today reminding workers of the mandatory steps to be taken prior to a strike, which include filing a complaint with the Labor Relations Authority and giving written notice to the employer three days prior to any strike.

Employees who contravene this regulation can be fined between MVR10,000 – 50,000.

The Teachers Association Maldives (TAM) which led the teachers’ black protest earlier this week  has also threatened to go on strike as a last resort in their fight to resolve pay discrepancies.

President of the association Athif Abdul Hakeem said that, while no official discussions have taken place with the government since the protest, the teachers’ steering committee and focal points will meet this Friday to decide their course of action.

“We have been talking about [minimum wage] since the association was formed in 2008. We have been focusing on two major issues, one is resolving pay discrepancies. Equal pay. Second issue is improving the education sector in general, including resources, training and standards of teachers,” said President of TAM Athif Abdul Hakeem.

Athif noted that with parliament majority, the government can easily change things if there is a political will.

“If [President Yameen] wants to do those things for us, the means are there now. I believe it can be done and it should be done.

The demand for a minimum wage has been raised by Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) as well.

Minimum wage

The Employment Act of 2008 mandated the establishment of  a salary advisory board shall be established to advise the government on the appropriate minimum wage, though no government has yet fulfilled this requirement.

The pay advisory board had been established in September 2008 by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and again in January 2009 by President Mohamed Nasheed, with no minimum wage resulting.

In May 2011, Nasheed announced his intention to set a minimum wage within a year, reconvening the pay advisory board.

Shortly after Nasheed’s initial promise, a number of business groups led by representatives of the Maldives Association of Construction Industry and the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry met to discuss the issue, determining that a minimum wage was “not important for the Maldives at the moment.”

Speaking at the press conference organised by the business groups, leader of the Jumhooree Party and Chairman of Villa Group Gasim Ibrahim said that setting a minimum wage suddenly without a good policy would destroy industry.

His thoughts were echoed by Ahmed Shiyam, Chairman of Sun Siyam resorts and leader of the Maldives Development Alliance.

Similar comments were made by current Deputy Leader of PPM Ahmed Adeeb, who at the time spoke as the treasurer of Maldives National Chamber Of Commerce and Industry.

Adeeb said that it would create great challenges for businesses if an equal minimum wage is set for both migrant workers and locals.

In December 2012, parliament passed a bill on the state wage policy which promised to resolve public sector pay discrepancies through the creation of a National Pay Commission.

The bill is still in the parliament’s economic committee, however, after being sent back for reconsideration by President Dr Mohamed Waheed, after issues were raised regarding which branch of the state would determine wages.


Teachers across Maldives take part in ‘black protest’

Teachers across the Maldives have today (April 6) taken part in a ‘black protest’ – wearing black clothes to school – to raise awareness of pay discrepancies and what they see as the state’s failure to improve the education sector.

“This is the first step, we want to draw attention to these issues. For the sake of our students we will go to work until we exhaust all other ways,” said Teachers Association Maldives (TAM) president Athif Abdul Hakeem.

One teacher told Minivan News that the move has come after repeated attempts to work through official channels.

“The reason we are doing this to express our grievances. Our discontentment with salary and allowances, lack of resources and and other issues we face in teaching,” stated Mausoom Saleem of Thaajuddheen School, Malé.

Athif had previously explained to Minivan News that teachers were working overtime without being paid for it.

“Independent institutions haven’t noticed this. If they don’t do this work it could be reflected in their appraisal, and they even fear termination. So they work. But without getting paid for the work,” he said.

Teachers’ overtime allowances have been reduced to just five percent of the basic salary, which on average amounts to less than MVR300 per month. But teachers have complained that school will not run without teachers doing overtime work.

In a letter sent out to schools prior to the protest, the Ministry of Education had said that pamphlets distributed by the TAM consist of false allegations that might create conflict and unrest, it has been reported.

The ministry also stated that since school premises are “dignified”, teachers must not do anything that may have a negative effect on students, reported local media Haveeru.

“Therefore, no one must participate in an an activity encouraged in the documents distributed under the name of Teachers’ Association on April 6. Please inform the teachers working in your institutions accordingly,” the letter was said to have read.

One ministry official with whom Minivan News spoke today denied there was any protest happening, and was unwilling to provide further comment.

Show of solidarity

Saleem – who has worked as a teacher for 10 years, with 8 of those at Thaajuddheen – explained that an estimated 60% of the teachers were taking part in the black protest.

“I don’t think wearing a specific colour to school will have any impact on the students. I believe they will understand that we are doing this for them. This is not just about teachers, this is about the education system.”

Parents, too, he noted were taking part in the protest by dropping off the children today wearing black.

“I think this was a display of solidarity. We are also seeing a lot of pictures [of people wearing black] on social media, with supportive comments.”

Teachers from Thaajuddheen School take part in the 'Black Protest'

Another teacher taking part in the protest– who wishes to stay anonymous – spoke with Minivan News today. The source stated that as well as marking, there are other demanding after school and weekend functions that teachers are expected to work without getting any overtime pay.

“I have never been paid any overtime,” stated the source, who has taught in the Maldives for three and a half years. They gave the example of working the Founder’s Day celebration which took place across many schools and organisations- “we had to work the function and we didn’t have a choice. This was 8 hours work during the day on our day off, with no payment and no choice.”

“I personally don’t have adequate time to plan, I have too many lessons after they recently changed my timetable.” In a previous school, the source stated they had taught for 18 periods per week – that has recently gone up to 31.

Free periods are often time that teachers will use for planning, marking, ensuring children get to their next lessons safely, or after school activites.

“I have 11 free periods, but we also do after-school clubs, I run an extra support class where I teach children for an extra hour after the lesson.”

“I may not be teaching, but these things are not taken into consideration,” the source stated.

TAM President Athif said  in February of this year that meetings with the Education Ministry had resulted only in the promise of more meetings.

“So in late January (2014) we requested to arrange a meeting but there was no response. So sent another letter this month. now we are waiting to discuss our issues. our next step will depend on how that goes,” Athif said.

According to TAM the organisation has 1,500 permanent member and an estimated 4,000 Maldivian teachers across the country who will participate. Recent Civil Service Commission data shows there to be 5,676 teachers in the Maldives – 4,855 of them are locals.