Tourism worker union threatens voter boycott if workers’ rights not protected

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) has announced a list demands targeted at government authorities and have threatened to boycott the upcoming presidential elections if workers rights are not protected.

TEAM and the Maldives Port Workers Union (MPWU) organized a joint concert event near the tsunami monument in Male’ to celebrate International Labour Day (May 1) – also referred to as ‘May Day’ – and show support for workers’ human rights.

During the event, which featured three Maldivian rock bands and a bodu beru (traditional drumming) group, TEAM highlighted four demands for tourism industry employees working at resorts and on safari boats:

1) receive 99 percent “equal and fair distribution of service charges with transparency”;
2) have Maldivians fill 80 percent of the industry’s jobs;
3) have the Freedom of Assembly Act amended to remove clause 24(7)b which bans certain gatherings, effectively making strikes illegal;
4) receive a minimum wage of US$600 for tourism sector employees.

“There is no reason for us to work if our human rights are not protected,” TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News today (May 2).

“The government has not taken any responsibility, they don’t care what happens [to workers]. It’s all about power for them,” he added.

“There are 15,000 Maldivian employees in the tourism sector and they are the breadwinners for their families. As family leaders, they will listen to what we have to say, so if we call for a voter boycott that’s about 75,000 votes we can control,” claimed Zakir.

“Current legislation mandates 99 percent of service charges be distributed among employees, however many companies are not following the law,” he stated.

“The majority of workers only receive about 500 MVR (US$32) to 1000 MVR (US$65) in service charge tips. It’s totally rubbish,” he added.

Zakir explained that foreign migrant workers hold 70 percent of tourism industry jobs (the legal maximum is approximately 50 percent but is widely unenforced), while over 30 percent of young people are unemployed – approximately 40,000 people.

“The Maldives is in a deep recession. The current government policy requiring 45 percent of tourism jobs be reserved for Maldivians is totally wrong,” Zakir declared.

“Cheap labourers don’t demand their rights be upheld. They are willing to work 14 to 16 hour days. These are slavery style operations,” he said.

Zakir explained that management in the tourism industry often cultivated frustration between Maldivian workers and foreign workers as a divide and conquer strategy.

“TEAM is not only for locals, we support migrant workers’ rights as well,” he added.

Regarding TEAM’s third demand, Zakir also spoke about the strike ban preventing groups of more than one person from gathering at resorts, on safari boats, or on industrial islands.

“This is a clear violation of human rights,” he declared.

The call for the minimum wage to be increased is another fundamental issue affecting quality of life, with the average salary actually being between US$152 and US$350, according to Zakir.

“This is not enough to live given the high cost of goods, rent, and inflation,” he said.

He claimed the government’s average figure of US$400 was “totally wrong”, while TEAM had at members at all resorts with access to actual salary information.

Although some resorts pay a higher minimum wage and percentage of service charges, workers’ financial security is still at risk if occupancy drops or anything unexpected happens at the resort that would affect the service charge amount, explained Zakir.

A petition with the list of TEAM demands is being circulated to all the resorts in the Maldives and will then be submitted to the relevant government authorities – President’s Office, Speaker of Parliament, and the Tourism Ministry. The next step will be to establish a timeframe to conduct negotiations.

“We will make them listen and talk,” Zakir stated.

“The government needs to legally implement the [International Labour Organisation (ILO)] international conventions, they’ve agreed to uphold,” he added.


Police break strike at Alimatha Resort, arrest two workers

A  strike by Maldivian employees at Alimatha Resort in Vaavu Atoll ended on Friday after 30 police descended on the resort.

Two resort staff were arrested, while 27 were subsequently dismissed. The workers were striking over a demand for an increase in their service charge compensation.

“They tear gassed all the staff”: striking resort worker

Dismissed reception supervisor at Alimatha Resort, Ahmed Fayaz, told Minivan News that police arrested the leader of the striking workers.

“The police arrested our leader Hassan. We were surrounding him, saying they couldn’t take him. We were trying to keep the police from arresting him.

“If they were going to do that, we said we would be very angry, so they tear gassed all the striking staff,” he alleged.

“In peace the police went out”: Police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef

Police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef confirmed two people had been arrested and were later released without charge. Police received information from resort management and “tried to help negotiate”, he said.

“The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly act doesn’t allow protesting in resorts,” Haneef noted.

“There was no tear gas, no pepper spray, and no violence.”

“l’m not here to spell out what has been done”: Alimatha General Manager

Alimatha Resort General Manager Abdullah Nashiz told Minivan News that resort management wanted to talk and gave many chances to the striking workers.

“We explained this is not the way to make demands. We confronted and commanded them to return to duty,” Nashiz stated.

Nashiz claimed the striking workers were shouting and forced laundry operations to stop by frightening Maldivian staff in that department.

“We do not know what threats were made [by staff] beyond stopping operations. I’m not here to spell out what has been done. The police can tell you that,” Nashiz said.

“The first time, I requested the supervisor call the police for the safety and security of the clients, staff, and property, and two or three [officers] came.

“We called the police the second time because the strikers were shouting at and threatening [us]. We were scared,” he claimed.

Nashiz said that after the striking workers were terminated, they were unwilling to take the termination letters and started shouting. However, he also claimed that all 27 former staff have since signed the termination letters.

He said that 99 percent of service charges were being given to staff and that the amount of compensation requested by the former employees was “impossible” and “not within the budget of the company”.

“It’s not company policy to give the total service charge, not at the [US$300-$400] amount requested. It was not foreseen in the budget or present employment contracts.

“One part may be given this year, and the next year we can reconsider based on work performance,” Nashiz added.

Fayaz meanwhile stated that the striking staff did not want to resign, nor did they want to cause any trouble for  tourists at the resort.

“The management is not giving the right information to the media, what they’ve said is incorrect,” he alleged.

“[General Manager] Abdullah Nashiz is wrong. They did a very, very, very bad thing.

“We were not disturbing guests, or other resort workers. We were just sitting in our rooms and refusing to go work,” Fayaz said.

Fayaz said resort management did not want to negotiate with the striking employees, particularly through collective bargaining. Instead they insisted the staff keep working.

Ultimately, 27 staff were terminated and forced to leave the resort following Hassan’s arrest.

According to Fayaz, resort management charges guests 8-10 percent service charge as stated in the guest catalogue, but then does not distribute 99 percent of those service charges to employees, as mandated by law.

“We were only given US$25-$50 in service charges each per month. This is the same service charge amount employees received in 1997,” he said.

“If they were unwilling to give us the proper service charge amount, we proposed a US$300 pay increase as an alternative,” Fayaz stated.

Resort “has a history of serious problems”: TEAM Secretary General

Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) Secretary General Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News the union are providing consulting services to the former employees at the resort, and noted that the workers had a history of striking for wage increases.

Strikes have occurred on the resort annually since 2009 and pay has increased from MVR 1200 (US$77.42) a month to MVR3000 (US$193.55) a month in 2012, he said.

“Management has refused to the workers’ demands, because if they accede they will have to pay all the service charges from 2008 until now,” Zakir stated.

He also explained that the constitution guarantees workers’ rights and that the Maldives had ratified the International Labour Organisation covenant, which protects the right for form associations for collective bargaining.

Zakir also said police “warned” strike leader Hassan and then arrested him in his room, at which point the other striking employees held onto him to prevent the police from taking him, and were ultimately pepper-sprayed.

“The staff were  really really afraid because of the police involvement,” Zakir said.

He added that since the resort is private property, the police said the terminated employees could not stay and forced them to leave the resort.

Tourism Ministry

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told local media the “disruption of services and harmony in resorts is unacceptable”.

“Tourism is the most significant industry in the Maldives. Adverse impact on the industry as a result of such protests would directly affect the entire nation. It could also have a major effect on our economy,” Adheeb said.