Hotel and resort workers in Maldives ready for indefinite strike to enshrine fundamental labour rights

UPDATE 8 October 2008: “Tourist resort staff will now receive new employment rights after a parliamentary vote on Monday narrowly averted an industry strike threatened for Tuesday if legal changes were not in place.”  Minivan News 7 October 2008

UPDATE 1 October 2008: In response to the announcement by the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) to strike from 5th October 2008 over the exclusion of hotel and resort workers from the Employment Act, government and parliamentary representatives have indicated that the law will be changed on 6th October. Given this, TEAM has stated that the union will not strike on 5th October and will monitor events on 6th October to ensure the Employment Act is amended. Should the promised amendment not occur TEAM will begin protest actions on 7th October 2008. A 30 September 2008 press release from TEAM is available here.

Despite having a reputation as one of the most exclusive and beautiful holiday destinations in the world, for decades Maldives’ citizens lived under the yoke of a paternalistic and authoritarian government. The hotel and resort industry of the Maldives accounts for more than 30 percent of the country’s national income yet workers in the industry have been excised from the law which governs employment relations and denied basic rights.

In response to this ongoing suppression of fundamental human righs, hotel and resort workers, organised through the Tourism Employees Assocation of Maldives (TEAM), have announced an indefinite strike in hotels, resorts, airports and other tourist enterprises from 5th October. TEAM has demanded that basic labour rights for hotel and resort workers be enshrined in the laws of the country.

Over the last five years, Maldives’ authoritarian structure has begun to unravel, as workers and civil society organisations have demanded genuine democratic rights. In August 2008, Maldives ratified a new constitution which guaranteed basic freedoms, such as multi-party democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of association and the right to strike. Such a change is extremely important, but with a legacy of autocracy in the country the actual realisation and exercise by citizens of these rights remains problematic. The present situation of hotel and resort workers is a case in point.

Just prior to the ratification of the new constitution, a new employment act came into force in July 2008. The act, which covers issues such as minimum wages, maximum weekly working hours, overtime and termination, among other employment-related aspects, specifically excludes workers in the hotel and resort sector.

The consequence of this was summarised in the 23 September press statement of TEAM:

The rights we are being deprived of are:
a) No proper rules in getting job and salary increment.
b) The employer can deduct salary of days on leave.
c) The employer can fire the employee without any good reason and the employee has no way of complaining against the employer.
d) The employer can demote or fire the employee without giving any advance notice.
e) Employer can hold the performance report of the job and can be a hurdle while applying for another job.
f) The employer can also force the employee to work for unlimited number of hours without any break.
g) Cannot get emergency leave when and if an emergency situation arises (such as a sudden death or an accident of a family member, birth of new baby, sudden illness of a child…etc.)
h) Cannot get pension and other such benefits
i) In case the employee becomes unable to work due to a major injury caused at work, he/she becomes completely helpless.
j) No health insurance even though the salary is too less for getting a proper medical treatment.
k) Professionals in a related area are not given proper notice and chances of becoming successful in their related fields.

In July, TEAM presented a petition signed by 5,000 hotel and resort workers (around 20% of workers in the sector) demanding their sector be incorporated into the employment act. The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has criticised the exclusion of the hotel and resort sector from the act and the denial of rights to those workers. Despite repeated representations by TEAM to the Majlis (parliament) to amend the employment act and incorporate the hotel and resort sector, no changes have occurred.

The failure of the government to act and the almost complete silence of the employers over the continuing denial of fundamental rights to hotel and tourism workers has driven TEAM, quite justifiably, to exercise their constitutional right to strike.

The IUF will be notifying travel agencies in major markets of the impending dispute. The IUF sends its solidarity to all members of TEAM and wishes the union success in the campaign for democratic and trade union rights.

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