Global trade union claims President’s Office still failing to address port workers’ rights abuses

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has accused President Mohamed Waheed Hassan of failing to respond to ongoing concerns it has over certain rights violations of workers employed at the state-owned Maldives Ports Limited.

A spokesperson for the ITF, a global trade union representing 4.5 million transport workers across 154 countries, said it expected to send a third official letter this week to President Waheed after it had not received a response from his office on two previous occasions.

In the last letter sent to the President’s Office on October 29, ITF General Secretary David Cockroft raised concerns over what he claimed was a “dire” situation facing members of the Maldives Port Workers Union (MPWU)  employed by the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL).

Some former port workers employed by the MPL have claimed they have been victimised at the work place for taking part in anti-government protests.

The MPL has previously stated that it has only ever exercised its right to discipline staff when “in breach of their employment contract”, adding that it had never deviated “from any Maldivian government regulation” in the way it operates.

However, Cockroft claimed that MPWU members appeared to be having their rights to freedom of association and to organise within a trade union movement attacked by the MPL on the basis of their political beliefs.

“Further to my letter of September 29, I am disappointed to have to write to you again as you have decided not to respond to my first letter,” he wrote to President Waheed at the time.

Cockroft added that allegations of port workers being denied union rights was taken very seriously by the ITF.  He therefore requested that the president intervene to try and resolve the matter where possible.

“[I] call again upon you to use your office as President of the Republic of Maldives to instruct the chairman and management of the Maldives Port Limited to respect the country’s Constitution and Employment Laws and immediately halt their anti-union campaign against members of the MPWU and to enter into a real dialogue and conciliation process with MPWU which will result in a negotiated settlement which addresses the legitimate grievances of members of the Maldives Port Workers Union,” Cockroft wrote.

Speaking today, President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said he would need to confirm if any letters from the ITF had been received. Minivan News was still awaiting confirmation from the President’s Office at the time of press.

Meanwhile, Deputy CEO of the MPL Ahmed Faiz requested that Minivan News meet him at his office tomorrow instead to address the concerns raised by groups such as the ITF.

Political considerations

In April 2012, seven staff members at MPL were said to have been suspended from their jobs at the state-owned company for participating in protests held by ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s anti government protests.

MPL Media Coordinator Ibrahim Rilwan at the time confirmed the suspensions, 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 behavioural norms, he added.

However, some staff at the MPL alleged that the senior officials of the state corporation had warned employees to not to participate in protests, and that action would be taken by those who do.

Disputes between the MPWU and the MPL later escalated to a point where the trade union back in September accused the state corporation of forming a “paper union” to shove aside the alleged violations of employee rights.

Sacked MPL employee and President of MPWU, Ibrahim Khaleel, alleged at the time that MP was trying to “fabricate the truth” about the violations of rights.

The ‘Maldives National Port Workers Union’ was formed just five days after MPL received a letter from the Asia Pacific Regional Office of International Transport workers Federation (ITF), which had raised concerns over the alleged employment rights violations.

In a document received by Minivan News, MPL Chairman Abdul Matheen Ahmed allegedly responded to queries raised by ITF’s Asia Pacific Regional Office, stating that MPL was “extremely surprised” by the statements in a letter it had been sent by the group.

The letter addressed to ITF official Mahendra Sharma further stated that the MPL as “a corporate entity” exercises its “right to take disciplinary action against staff when they are in breach of their employment contract”, and said it had been the practice since the formation of the company.

MPL, in the letter, further claimed that it did not “deviate from any Maldivian government regulation” during the course of its action and “will not do so in the future”.
“Hence we are quite surprised on this issue you are talking about. Please make this clearer to us. As to the events you have stated in the letter, we are sure it has not taken place in our company and nor is our human resource department aware of any such issues,” read the letter.

The letter also goes on to describe the MPWU as an “unfounded, illegal association”, attempting to defame the MPL.


Word Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) expresses concern over MPL’s “attack” on ports workers

The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) has expressed concern over reports of government owned Maldives Ports Ltd’s (MPL) “infringement of trade union rights and freedoms,” and has called on President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to immediately terminate its “attack” on members and the leadership of the Maldives Ports Workers Union (MPWU).

In a letter on July 23, WFTU General Secretary George Mavikos said the organisation was “deeply concerned” over MPL rights violations.

These included the dismissal of six members of the MPWU, suspension of 49 of its members, reassignment of many ports workers to other ports on different islands and verbal warnings to 27 works and the threats and harassment against the President of MPWU Ibrahim Khaleel.

Khaleel had previously told Minivan News the government company mainly targeted employees who supported the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“They send people with cameras to MDP protests to check which MPL employees take part in the protests,” he said.

Mavikos urged President Waheed “for the immediate termination of this attack against the members and the leadership of the Maldives Ports Workers Union, the reinstatement of the dismissed and suspended workers, the reassignment of the workers in their original working place as well as the termination of the threats against the President of the Union.”

The WFTU is the oldest international trade union organisation with 82 million members in 120 countries, and “struggles against capitalism and imperialism for a society without exploitation of man by man.”

It is also the founder of the International Labor Organisation (ILO). The Maldives became a member of the ILO in May 2009.

The MPWU on July 12 had accused MPL of violating employee rights, alleging the state-owned company had unfairly dismissed six employees due to their political activism.

In his letter to MPL CEO Mahdi Imad, Khaleel said: “Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, it is now common within MPL to stop employees from expressing certain political views, and violate the Employment Act by unfairly dismissing employees and transferring employees to different departments without prior warning or explanation of any offense committed.”

MPL must “respect an employee’s right to exercise freedoms granted in the constitution and by participating in political activities in his or her free time” and must withdraw blocks on “social media including facebook, twitter and gmail,” Khaleel added

In response, Imad in a letter on July 16 accused the MPWU of dividing employees and promoting the interests of a certain political party and threatened to take action against the union.

“We have received reports that the union is attempting to divide employees and promote the interests of a certain political party. Hence, I order and advice you not to do so. If this happens in the future, we will have to take action against you,” he said.

Further, access to social-networking sites had been blocked because they “often propagate un-Islamic, sinful activities and propagate the interests of Jews,” Imad said.