When employers are remarkably stubborn, everything has to be done by the force of law! Atleast that seems to be how it works in the country. Although we have a booming tourism and an accompanying, construction industry, workers of both industries generally live in medieval conditions. The plight is especially worse for construction industry as the workers are mostly expatriate workers. Worse means ‘small’ things like having to work 7 days a week, no pay for 6 months, a makeshift toilet for one in 50 people and things like that. However its to their credit that Minivan observes that the most frequent complaint of expatriate workers is about unpaid wages, while that for locals is about living conditions. However the ever persistent demand by resort workers about service charge is also about money which is also legally theirs.
Minivan has an excellent article on these lines here… Pls follow to read.
Although our construction workers build world class resorts, their work accommodation is definitely other-worldly..
The recent round of middle east turmoil and popular action to remove corrupt regimes from power started with an economic problem. Joblessness. The same kinds of problems are being experienced in more developed countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece. Here in Maldives, we had a culture of government appointing political and civil service jobs as favors for katheeb’s and atholhuverins and their friends and families for a long long time. At that time those who didn’t have the right connections had to make their own way to resorts or somehow manage to scrape a living. Time however has changed with the new popular administration and the changes that are currently being brought simply needs an urgency in creation of jobs for the local people. The current thinking for solving the housing problem is through real-estate business like as done anywhere else, which is almost a new concept for the country. There still is more needed to be done to facilitate this type of business such as changing existing laws on land ownership and laws on mortgage etc. All these measures will soon be taken up and fast-tracked as our version of ‘welfare-state’ is being built, after which the problem of jobs will come again around with a vengeance. This time it will be in the form of home-owners who needs jobs to pay for mortgage!
Fortunately we currently seem to have the capacity to provide jobs for prospective homeowners and taxpayers in the private sector as well, but its by no means in an orderly fashion. Our current job market is in serious chaos and it needs drastic restructuring to be efficient and useful for the local economy.
Broadly here are the industries and the situations thereof which needs to be taken in to consideration. Tourism industry:
Tourism industry provides most jobs for local economy and this industry can still provide more opportunities by quota adjustment by profession. Currently the situation is that almost any number of foreign workers for any position can be employed for any length of time. Apart from a requirement that 50%ratio of expats to locals workers need to be maintained (even which is not a hard or fast rule!) there is no more encouragement for employing local workers. Construction industry:
construction industry has vast potential for local economy but is actually the worst in terms of work opportunity for local workers. Its not a problem of lack of talent but rather lack of willingness to tackle corruption in the industry. Construction industry as its currently running is only useful for a handful of big contractors and a few smaller ones who are have the right connections to the big ones. Its almost a no-go area for local artisans and craftsmen because of lack of job security, poor work conditions, and extremely meagre wages designed to discourage local workers. Being businesses everyone tries to get the most profit which equates to finding the cheapest labor which is where the local worker looses out. Fishing industry:
This is one industry which can be better managed by innovative means. Only depending on one type of product, one type of boats, and one methodology to fish have exhausted the industry and drastic measures needs to be made to revive the industry. Agriculture industry:
Although we would love to call it an industry, we do not yet have much of agriculture in any comparable industrial scale. Because our islands are small and soil is not very fertile, traditional methods of agriculture as practised in other countries will not work. Things like hydroponics and aquaculture are perfectly suitable for some varieties and needs to be propped up. A most pressing problem for this industry is financing and small business assistance, which also needs to come up somehow somewhere and the sooner the better! Manufacturing:
Apart from The Static-Company (they export R/O plants) we do not yet seem to have any exportable manufacturing products but there are many encouraging signs. We have successful businesses in bottling plants for water and soft-drinks and a few canning factories for fish cans. What we can successfully introduce to local economy with little effort and financing include, cookies, biscuits, soap, detergent, lotion , perfume etc. These small scale productions can be introduced to aspiring enterprising souls through chambers-of commerce activities and small businesses initiatives. Financing:
There is great urgency in propping up institutions and mechanisms to help create and sustain other industries by providing capital and finance services. With the upcoming income tax regulations and associated restructuring, its hoped that the government will not be forced to take loans from local banks which is the cause of all financing woes the the country faces.
Minimum wage is an emotive issue which has broad consensus of acceptance. Its evident from the ongoing dialogue on the issue in various media outlets. There was an attempt to set up a minimum wage for the country to prevent labour exploitation in the past which was duly shot down by the pro-business lobby in the People’s Majls. The current attempt to set the minimum wage comes at a time the balance of power is shifting in favour of the ruling MDP party which hopes to re-energize the local economy by creating more jobs for the locals, releasing and unsustainable peg on dollar to rufiyaa and introducing long overdue tax reforms. Although there are voices of dissent only from the bussiness lobby which includes resorts owners such as Villa group chairman Gasim Ibrahim, Sun Travel Shiyam the minimum wage issues is expected to proceed through People’s Majlis.
Contrary to popular belief, minimum wage when it becomes reality will not be as high as is expected of it. The figure could be based on criteria such as type of work or age of worker etc or one all encompassing one figure such as 2000.00rf etc. It remains to be seen how the the figure is arrived but one criteria the govt. will have on mind is to device it in such away that the current labour exploitation will be halted by this one stroke of legislation. The Minimum wage figure need only to be above the edge the employers are employing expatriates over locals such as 70$ or 100$ per month levels. With these levels of pay, the workers (often expatriates) are enduring back-breaking work in exploitative conditions and suffering for years on end without any regard to rights and benefits of work. If the minimum wage figure is higher than these levels, there is a good chance that construction industry will be more favourable for local employment.
The business lobby will work hard to undermine this measure and yet they do not have convincing arguments against the measure. Vague observations like “we will go bankrupt.. if this happens” only exposes the depth of their understanding of basic issues in running a business. If they do not offer credible objections or alternatives , then they are just a voice and no more. Running a business is no more like a running a slave-trade operation. That was some time back and does not reflect current working condition in resorts or construction industry or anywhere else.
The long expected devaluation of local currency Rufiya has happened with an official range of 10.28rf to 15.42rf per 1$ announced yesterday. The immediate implications of this exchange hike would be a jump in consumer goods prices so one Rufiya would have less buying power than it had one day ago. This measure was enacted by president Anni with consultations of financial experts to curb a thriving black market for dollars at higher than official figures for exchange rate. The official storyline is that although there will be a lift in consumer goods prices in the short term, the crisis will pass and that dollar to Rufiya rate will fluctuate on a daily basis and everyone will live happily ever after. However with the current political realities its difficult to believe this measure will go unchallenged by the opposition.
The implications of this dollar exchange rate will be negatively felt by resort workers in resorts where the staff are paid their salaries in Rufiyas. Although there is no real reason for resorts to pay salaries in Rufiyas, several resort do exactly that. This is despite the fact that all the revenues generated in the resorts are foreign currency.
The construction industry will also be affected by this exchange rate measures, which hopefully will consider offering more work opportunities for local workers. The current model for construction industry is to employ illegal immigrant workers at near extortion rates for back breaking work and to employ only illegal immigrant workers (because they will be unlikely to pursue their rights in official channels) to do the job all the while saying local talent is unavailable. Nothing can be further from truth. Locals are as or more willing to work for a reasonable pay which the ‘construction industry’ does not seem inclined to give.
Ultimately, the solution to dollar shortage in the country is to adopt more financial reform measures which will be fought with on every step of the way by our opposition political parties which has only mission in office; to oppose the government weather its right or wrong!