TEAM fears resort workers’ income may be indirectly affected by T-GST rise

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) has expressed concern that certain resorts are planning to reduce service charges in the wake of the proposed increase to the Tourism Goods and Service Tax (T-GST).

“While the decision to increase Tourism General Services Tax (T-GST) is going to increase the government’s income, some resorts are trying to reduce the percentage of service charge collected from tourist for the resort workers; this is very concerning and unacceptable for our association,” read a TEAM press release today.

Earlier this month the People’s Majlis agreed to revenue raising measures which involved increasing T-GST to 12 percent in order to help finance the government’s record MVR17.95 billion budget.

“Even now, in most resorts, the services charge collected from tourists are not distributed according to law, and they are sometimes spent by the companies; the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives is very concerned about this as well,” said TEAM.

An employee of one of the country’s top resorts explained that current legislation mandated that 10 percent of service charge must be taken for staff, and one percent used for additional staff costs.

“But the current legislation doesn’t specify that the service charge has to be distributed equally,” said the employee – who preferred to remain anonymous. “There are a lot of loopholes.”

The trade union today called for the government to establish a comprehensive legal framework that regulates the payment and disbursal of service charges.

“Service charges and monthly wages and other allowances are privileges that should be sustained through bargaining through an agreement between the employer and and the employed,” said the union.

Workers at the Sheraton Full Moon resort went on strike last month, citing low service charge as one of the reasons. Local reports suggested that Sheraton’s staff were being paid less than one third of the amount made by fellow-workers in similar resorts from service charge.

One general manager, however,  told Minivan News that he felt TEAM’s fears were unfounded, suggesting that comparison with other resorts was a major reason for keeping staff benefits competitive.

“We need to keep staff happy in order to have happy guests. It’s highly uncommon for a resort to do this – it’s just not worth it. We want to attract and keep the best staff.”

“TEAM’s logic doesn’t make sense,” said the GM, who wished to remain anonymous. “I don’t know of any resort that does anything wrong with the service charge.”

Asked about the potential impact of the scheduled changes to tourism charges – which include the reintroduction of that flat-rate bed tax until November, alongside the T-GST increase in the same month – the GM said that it was the top resorts that would be worst affected.

“Higher end resorts will be experience more of a problem after higher T-GST replaces the bed tax, and it’s these resorts which normally charge a higher service rate,” he said.

Earlier this week, IMF representatives told a Majlis committee that – even at twelve percent – the rates of taxation in the tourism sector were “quite low” compared to other tourist destinations.

Dr Koshy Mathai, resident representative to Sri Lanka and Maldives, said he had paid “north of 20 percent” in taxes at a hotel in Fiji and that, as 70 to 80 percent of the Maldivian economy was “driven by tourism”, Mathai said that it was “only natural that the [tourism industry is] contributing resources for the economy to operate.”

He added that “rates of return on Maldivian resorts are among the highest in the world”.

“The people who come here are people with more wherewithal, more financial resources, who are more likely to be price insensitive,” said Mathai.

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Human Rights Commission condemns government’s “intimidation” of NGOs

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has condemned the government’s use of  “threats and intimidation” against civil society groups.

HRCM officials have also met with the Maldives Police Service to discuss allegations of the misuse of strip searches following recent demonstrations.

Writing to the Home Ministry, the commission reported that it had “condemned the infringement of the right to freedom of association as [an] expression of these two organisations”.

The letter also called upon the ministry to refrain from “unlawful sanctions” and activities that prevent such groups from working for the protection of human rights.

The HRCM pointed to Article 2(c) of the Human Rights Commission Act, which obligates it to support and protect these NGOs in the their work.

State Minister for Home Affairs and the Registrar of NGOs Abdulla Mohamed last week declared that the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) and Transparency Maldives (TM) were under investigation for “unlawful acts” and warned NGOs that organisations acting outside of law would be dissolved.

The Maldivian Democracy Network has also condemned the minister’s remarks.

Transparency has publicly called for the Supreme Court to respect the constitutionally mandated election schedule, after it noted no significant issues during its extensive observation mission covering the first round of presidential polls.

The group has also questioned the integrity of the Supreme Court bench prior to its decision to delay the second round of voting.

The integrity of the court has become a running theme during the ensuing demonstrations, with particular attention drawn to Justice Ali Hameed’s alleged appearance in a string of sex-tapes.

TEAM – an industry body representing some 5000 resort workers – has threatened prlonged strikes, saying that the Supreme Court order “destroys the principles of democracy we have embraced and voids articles of the constitution.”

Transparency Maldives – an affiliate of Transparency International – states its mission as improving “transparency and accountability in all sectors” as well as increasing awareness of “corruption and its detrimental effects on society and development”.

The HRCM has also met with the police after being made aware of allegations that strip searches were being used in an unnecessary and discriminatory manner following the arrest of protesters.

Allegations of arbitrary and frequent use of pepper spray, beating, strip-searching, frisking, handcuffing and drug testing of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters were heard during the Parliamentary Privileges Subcommittee this week.

During the HRCM’s meeting with police, it stressed its belief that strip searches were a “degrading and inhuman treatement” that was to be avoided whenever possible.

The HRCM urged the police to obtain the detainee’s consent and the authorisation of a senior officer before conducting such a search, as well as ensuring that those carrying out the search are adequately trained.

In a statement issued on Wednesday (October 2), police said they were authorised to frisk and conduct strip-searches under Articles 32-36 of the the Police Powers Act.

The articles state that police are authorised to use such procedures if they have reasonable grounds to believe the detainee may hold an object to harm themselves or another, or an object for intoxication, or an object to commit an illegal object.

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“Shangri-La strike will not end soon” warns TEAM

The strike over the dismissal of 65 staff members at Shangri-La Villingili Resort in Addu Atoll is still going strong with 157 staff members joining the strike and the support of the Tourism Employment Association of the Maldives (TEAM).

The strike began on 14 April when four villa hosts were dismissed by the resort for locking themselves in an empty guest room to play PlayStation.

Sixty-one other staff members signed a petition to reinstate the four dismissed staff, but instead, they were all escorted by police to Feydhoo in Seenu Atoll and dismissed from their jobs.

Since the strike began, they have been  joined by another 110 other staff members as well as members of TEAM. Over 157 people are now protesting at Feydhoo, hoping the management of Shangri-La will reconsider their decision and reinstate the 65 staff.

But Vice President of TEAM Mauroof Zakir doesn’t think it will be over soon, saying “it might last for another week.”

“Management doesn’t want to change their decision,” he said, noting that the strike is still going strong and is “well organised.”

Zakir said the PlayStation was originally brought at a guest’s request, but the guest said something was wrong with the console. He said the four staff went into an empty guest room—noting all the rooms around it were empty “so there would be no disturbances”—and were checking the console.

“They acknowledged they started to play a football game for about 5 or 10 minutes,” Zakir said, but claimed the resort’s management did not deal with the situation “as they should have.”

“After 45 minutes, they had made their decision [to dismiss the villa hosts],” Zakir said.

He said a number of staff then went to the Human Resources department to demand resort management reinstate the four staff members, but management refused.

“We are still trying to negotiate with management,” Zakir said, “but they don’t want to negotiate with our demands.”

He said management then decided to fire everyone who had taken part in petitioning for the reinstatement of the four staff members, and called police to have all 65 staff escorted to nearby Feydhoo.

Shangri-La Villingili Resort
Shangri-La Villingili Resort

Zakir said the 65 dismissals were unlawful as staff were given no warning and no termination letter. He added that since the incident took place, they have been receiving informal messages from resort management that all staff who joined the protest will be fired, too.

“[Management] is still trying to protect their decision,” Zakir said, “they wanted to investigate the case but they don’t want to discuss it [with us].”

Zakir said the resort management was scheduled to have another meeting tomorrow and they were bringing in people from the company’s head office.

He added that the resort needed to not only reinstate all staff but also the trade union.

“Under the Constitution, we have the right to protest and freedom of association,” Zakir said.

He said because the Maldives is a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), they had the right to form unions, and he said he hoped the ILO “might step in” and help resolve the situation.

“They won’t give up and neither will we,” Zakir stated.

Shangri-La’s Director for Communication Leslie Garcia said the resort is “running smoothly and operating as normal,” and added the investigation is currently ongoing.

She said management is “working closely with local government authorities” and was trying to solve the issue, but would not give any comments or details regarding the strike or what measures were being taken to resolve the problem.

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