A whole island for 1500 dollars!

kudafinolhu island

The island of Kudafinolhu is north of fun island is in the press with the Villa Group claiming the tourism ministry’s revision of the rent for the island is against the original agreement signed with the ministry. The island was leased to the Villa group at a paltry 1500 dollars as a picnic island. The revised rent is based on the size of the island and amounts to 51,784 dollars annually.
The case highlights the corruption and self-interest at play in the tourism ministry over the years and its an encouragement that the tourism ministry is at-last seen to be doing something about these issues.
Although a picnic island by itself does not generate income like a ‘resort’, resorts sell excursions to guests which is a lot of money on a yearly basis. For the purpose of rent for the k.kudafinolhu, 1500 dollars is only symbolic. This goes in the same line where Villa group was awarded a plot of land in Male’ for filling station for only 6rf per sq-ft. If we consider another similar island Kuda Bandos, which is a primarily local picnic island, the rent for the island is 1,130,333 dollars! so the kinds of money expected from picnic island is not paltry at all when dealt farily. There are more islands and more stories like this which needs to come out to light and accountability.

Related story: Kandholhu Island

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Service charge issue


The service charge issue has been taken up by a thread in a tripadvisor forum and here is the link: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTopic-g293953-i7445-k3462287-10_Service_charge_update-Maldives.html
Although the intro of the thread has been deleted by tripadvisor police, the issue is quite obvious and those of us who are in the know, know this is a real McCoy of a true issue. The thread includes a list of ‘bad employers’ who ‘steal’ (for lack of a better word) from staff service charge in an attempt (a commendable one) to name and shame them. The list of resorts is:

Adaaran
Meedhuparu/ meed
Club Rannalhi
New Vadoo
Hudhuranfushi
Aaa resorts
Filitheyo
Medufishi
Sun Travel
Anatara
Bandos
Eriyadhu
John Keels
The Chaaya group
Validhu
Emboodhoo
Velidhu
Villa hotels
Sun island island
Paradise island
Holiday island
Fun island

Of the islands listed above the resorts run by Villa group (Sun island, Paradise island, Holiday island,Fun island, Royal Island) have not been giving any service charge to the staff for the past many months possibly for a year now. To evade the new labour rules which obliges employers to pay 99% of any service charge collected, they are reported to have added the 10% to pricing and maintains they are not charging service charge from guests now.

Adaaran and John Keels resorts have had workers strike over this issue and where there is a good case for a resort boycott, these resorts perhaps deserve such a boycott.

Filitheyo, Medufishi, Eriyadhoo, Vilamendhoo and the brand Zitahli are all in the lower end of caring for staff and its a good thing that big websites like tripadvisor are taking these issues on workers behalf. A few lines of comment asking the management to reconsider their policies towards staff by guests would go a long way to address these issues.

One surprise name in the list is Anantara which is somewhat comparable to Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and Landaagiraavaru where service charge is compared in the higher end. By far the best resort when it comes to service charge is W Maldives at Fesdu.

One important omission from the list is Kurumba Village and Universal Group resorts which will fit somewhere in between the lower and middle portion of a worker care scale.

the Friday problem

mndf
Not that there is a big problem with Friday, but with the exception of the few exceptions, all the resorts in the Maldives seems to be on the wrong side of the law when it comes to making staff work on Friday. On this issue the law is clear, it states:

“chapter 4. clause 38: An employee required to work normal hours on a public holiday shall be paid at least an amount equivalent to half of the minimum wages earned on a normal day of work in addition to over time.”

Clarifying what a public holiday is, the law states:

chapter 11. clause 90: “In this act public holiday shall means Fridays, Days of commemorations of the birth of the prophet Muhammad, day of commemoration of the Maldives converting to Islam, Independence Day, National Day, First day of Ramazan, Day of Eid al Fitr, Victory Day, Republic Day, Hajj day and Day of Eid al Alha”

However most resorts breech this law as well as many other such laws and nothing happens. Long arm of the law becomes short when law is flouted by the big businesses.

The global financial crisis which is slowing down tourism industry is one good excuse for employers seek authorities sympathy rather than compliance to law. The logic being that its better for staff to keep their jobs rather than be a burden on the employer demanding compliance to law. However this is absolute rubbish as everybody knows that complying to this little one clause of law would not bankrupt a resort.

Those resorts which allow for this provision are few and yet they seems to be thriving. According to our colleagues in various resorts some resorts which have no problem implementing the law are:
1. W Maldives at Fesdu
2. Banyantree Ihuru and Vabbinfaru
3. Four seasons Landaagiraavaru and Kudahuraa
4. Bandos

There might be many but we know this much at this time.

the problem of friday

most resorts ignore the provision
some resorts allow friday with reduced work hours
some resorts allow off days to accumulate
those resorts which do not allow days to accumulate cos of supervisor or manager sees it fit. not necessarily policy.
most colleagues in various depts would agree to hold port till their colleagues come back from extended leaves…

The mix of staff

landscapersExcepting the very few exceptions, most of the resorts in Maldives have a mix of staff from various countries in an easily categorized fashion depending on the functions of the staff.
For example: Most of the Bangladeshis on the average resort would be found in the labour workforce whilst the Sri Lankans will be the majority of the accountants and the locals dominate in as Room Boys, Waiters, Receptionists and the Nepalis are dependable for security. These are general stereotypes and should match the status in most of the resorts. There is no issue in this mix of nationalities and is a blessing in many forms. Having a team of different backgrounds and nationalities bring lots of skills and everybody benefits from multiculturalism.

The flip-side of this situations is the many occasions where simple misunderstandings of language translates to anything from bickering to fights to full-scale warfare resort style. There has indeed been instances where riot police had been called to islands to quell such violence with serious injuries to staff.

On the other hand, those resorts which seems to favor a particular nationality of staff over others have an easier job of maintaining governance being dictatorial. Examples of such resorts are The Universal Group, Bandos, Vabbinfaru, Sonevafushi etc. However it has to be noted that there are indeed reasons for a resort to have an abundance of staff from a particular country or some islands in Maldives. For the Universal Group the biggest reason is their extensive business links in Sri Lanka and the history of the company rather than anything else. For Bandos the apparent favoritism of Addu staff could be attributed to Mr. Deen’s personal attachment to Addu which is quite well known. Past experience and a desire to achieve the prestigious tourism award of “green leaf” could be the reason why nature loving resorts like Vabbinfaru choose locals as their favorites. Of-course none of these claims to favoritism would be found in official ink but the effect of the evident policies are found in the staff listings and there are reasons for that.

Discriminating against workers

hey come back!

On discrimination the new labor law is very clear. It is prohibited. Here is the text.

“4. (a) It is prohibited to discriminate amongst persons carrying out equal work either in the granting of employment, determination of remuneration, increase in remuneration, provision of training, determination of conditions and manner of employment, dismissal from employment or resolution of other employment related matters, based on race, color, social standing, religion, political beliefs or affiliation with any political party, sex, marital status, family obligations, and in so far as it does not contravene the provisions herein age or disability. ”

As its in human nature to find ways to evade a disagreeable thing so is the case of discrimination even as it is prohibited by law, most resorts are finding ways to evade the law and find breaches in law to contravene it. The extent of discrimination amongst workers is quantifiable and is proven. And the ways of discrimination are quite different from what is popularly perceived. For most of the world workers discrimination would happen on color and sex. The whites get more and the girls get less. Tourism industry in Maldives seems to be no exception to this trend although this is an arguable position. Discrimination on pay among color lines is never attributed to color but is always defended with the assertion that expatriates were sought when locals were unavailable and once they are sought they have their say in dictating terms. In theory this seems to be plausible but in reality it is much more complicated than that. And it’s a long story that should be brought to light. Hopefully we will write on this very soon in this blog.

A case in point in lots of resorts in Maldives is the alignment of the management to a certain nationality and the love lost among other employees of the resort who do not fall in to favored nationality. In Universal Groups resorts the fondness and general benevolence is mostly to Sri Lankans as the owners of that group identify themselves with their close relationships and connections in Sri Lanka. The recent entries to the resort market in Maldives from Sri Lankan hoteliers John Keels and Eitken Spence is reputed to be a little bit overzealous in this respect. The same can be said of Taj resorts who seems to be forever trapped in the pioneering history days of the Taj founders and medieval India. Enter the Italians with their “club” conception of resorts and everyone is frowned upon if not Italian. Yes they would rather not have even the British as guests if their fellow countrymen could be found. Enter Banyan Tree and Bandos and everyone except Maldivians are automatically disqualified. And the list goes on and its an interesting trend to observe.

BUT: interesting or not, the law of the land shall be observed. The law is clear that there shall be no discrimination against workers based on the qualifications in the relevant clause.

The problem in Meedhupparu.

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The main points raised by the ongoing protest in Meedhuparu are:
• Discrimination against staff: this is a true and a real issue and needs to be addressed. Part of the problem seems to the wayward mentality of the management still stuck somewhere between 1900 and 2000bc. In a work environment staff shall not be discriminated on the basis of religion ethnicity or race color etc. etc. those who are successful in this industry as resort owners know this problem and have grown out of these bad ‘habits’. For example the salary distribution in Meedhuparu is ludicrous if it’s viewed in right context with foreign exchange rate set as 10rf inside the resort which is clearly criminal offense if this comes to that. On top of that how hard is it to do math with exact exchange rate of 12rf to 1$? Are the accountants somehow finding it difficult to do arithmetic? No calculators or computers in Meedhuparu? Why does expat gets 200$ while the local gets 2000rf. Is it so hard to multiply 200$ to 12.75 and get 2550? If the Meedhuparu accountant should find this much of mathematics difficult then please contact me immediately! I am always ready to help. Lol
• Compliance to labor law seems to be a sizeable problem to all resorts in Maldives with few known exceptions like Bandos. But if it’s clearly warranted by law is there any choice other than compliance? Besides what exactly are the sticking points the management of Meedhuparu seems to be stuck about? On the one hand the management is giving all the right signals that they are doing compliance and on the other hand they are refusing even to discuss legitimate points raised by the staff where compliance is seen to be lacking. The current management thinking in Meedhuparu is to stick by known routine procedures to address issues which roughly mean compliance by staff to management’s whims and tantrums and talk good ethics from high pedestals disregarding the issues raised by staff. This is not a unique problem to Meedhuparu. Every other resort in Maldives seems to have got stuck in this thinking and is a becoming a real stumbling block to progress. The correct thinking should be to be able to meet the challenge wherever it arise, to address the issue however it comes, to throw away this old fashioned thinking that somehow resort workers are little school boys who can be bribed with sweets! Am I right? Or wrong?
• Mr. Mahdy who speaks on behalf of Meedhuparu management is adamant that staff cannot demand removal of certain persons from managements and it’s quite true. There are things people can demand and things people cannot. But strikes and demonstrations are not exactly learnt from school text books and the formulas of strikes are not accurate. Nor are they meant to be. It’s easy to get into rational educated discourse with people individually and profit from that. But to talk to a group of people collectively is quite another thing. The reasons seems to be that the output of such a talk or conversation would be average of the groups thinking, the average of rationalizing process inside their individual minds and the sum total of the strength of their vocal chords (measured in dbs of course..) etc. (I am still formulating the exact parameters of this theory…) lol. So in short there is nothing staff cannot demand especially if they are claiming constitutional rights!
• The striking staffs are also complaining about the quality of food and accommodation which is a very much relative thing as everyone has his or her personal preference when this comes to that. But the trick to crack this problem is not to introduce more tuna chunks to the curry bowl. The trick is in simple things… first to listen to what the staff really needs. To ask the staff how to save money and how best to economize and yet utilize resources fully. Most of the resorts in Maldives fall to this pitfall of not listening to staff and seeking advice from them. The staff if they are appreciated or made to feel so would help greatly as most staff bring about them much experience from their past employers and would be only too happy to join the decision making process. But there is one problem common to almost all resorts in Maldives which is the language barrier. Most locals of this country are quite a happy people and finds school text books a chore to go through! So poor English maybe hamper effective communication but this same problem is also applicable to Sri Lankans who are the de facto management of Meedhuparu. So as every local knows who have fallen in with a Japanese guest recently it’s not all about language. The relationship will bloom and blossom if the will is there. If it’s done from the heart…not some polite nothings from the tip of the tongue!
• The resort being managed by Sri Lankan team it’s understandable that the management somehow might think they are somehow immune to criticism especially with regards to the close connections they enjoyed under the former regime and warm and cozy relations with the then minister Dr Shaugy but where criticism deemed necessary it’s justifiable. As is the case now. This attitude to staff and the thinking of being untouchable is very bad for business and those who are to score or to get score points from these protests need to take heed from this. An era has passed, a new government is in place and old connections to tourism ministry are not as strong as it was. Yes I am talking about being able to bribe the tourism minister and high society will be a little bit difficult now for many reasons.

why Mr. Deen is always fooled?

barber1Bandos is obviously one of the pioneers of tourism in Maldives and has created precedents in almost all fields of relevance for a resort in Maldives.
Bandos is a first to provide provident fund benefits to staff in Maldives as well the first one to preempt labor law provisions among the many that can be sung to her praise. Mention also has to be made of the “family effect” created in Bandos and is a unique feature of the island few disagrees. These being the most obvious pros of the resort there are also cons.
One such might have been the top brass team the ever so kind Mr. Deen forever mistakes to be honest and yet all the while he is only fooled by appearance. From as early as 1990 there were consistent rumors that managers misappropriate company and left Mr. Deen in the lurch. And the trend hasn’t stopped yet. According to reliable sources who work in Bandos things are so bad that Mr. Deen has finally given upon judgment on others and assigned the task of day to day running of the resort to a daughter so that he wouldn’t be swindled again. The current batch of management staff are said to be not in favor of this appointment and an atmosphere of a family feud appears to be in the making. The problem seems to be lack of trust with recent revelations that top management staffs were involved in smuggling out costly hardware items without knowledge of the owners. Little wonder while most resort owners in Maldives moved up from humble beginnings, Mr. Deen seems to be stuck forever in a level plain thanks to unwavering trust to anyone who demands to be trusted.
There is a popular Sri Lankan fable in which a kind hearted barber takes money only from affluent persons for his services while letting go of the poor for free. One day an ‘elua’ (a goat) notices how kind this barber is, decides that he needs a hair cut among other things…

Resort workers strike updates:

First it was Reethi Rah resort staff followed by Anantara staff in solidarity with them, next comes Medhuparu staff all demanding basically that the resorts follow the rule of law. Quite simple eh?
But the managements of these resorts don’t seem to agree.
Here are some points to ponder:
• At anantara the HR has teamed up with Universal Group to get clarifications of the various points of the law basically because the HR is headed by an expat (expats are more cautious when it comes to matters of law and rightly so…) but the point here is that as one of the most reputed staff friendly resort as Anantara is they have chose then worst possible partner to discuss staff issues. Universal Resorts Group is renown for its notoriety to staff and Anantara stands to loose from such collaborations at least in reputation.
• W Maldives by far the best employer in terms how much service charge they can pay to staff also has agreements with Universal Group as they have lease agreements of 2 islands from the group but w Maldives doesn’t seem to be as fond of asking clarification of every clause of law from Universal Group lawyers. Y?
• Compared to Anantara Bandos Island is basically a one man job with Mr. Waheedu Deen as the owner and yet Bandos has preempted compliance to the labor law even before the law came in force. While Anantara boasts many hotel properties worldwide it is still struggling to follow through compliance to labor law.
• The 8 hours work to be deduced from a clause of the labor law was interpreted by Anantara lawyers as meant to mean 8 hours work exclusive of meal times and rest times etc etc. if this same logic is applied to all ranges of work in equal measure to resort workers, some workers will fail to do their 8 hours work no matter how hard they try. Take for example the case of telephone operator. If work is meant in this case the time spent in work then a telephone operator’s work consists of talking on phone and call timers in pabx system will be the best indicator of the work he or she did on a particular shift or day. Now it remains to be seen whether an average size resort’s operator can talk 8 hours call time in 24 hours! I doubt this.
• Although Anantara management like all managements reiterate that they don’t temper with service charge its simply not true… like Gayoom said. Lol. The proof lies in 2 staff meetings where the management said they would have to deduct some monies from service charge for damages caused by staff (1 was the case of a flat screen tv which was broken by construction staff, another was a time when some monies were stolen from a guest room).
Many more points to come…
Send ur comments and happy reading!