The skilled 8.5k


Under the economics reform agenda, it was decided that 8500 people will be trained in various areas of study in work related fields to combat widespread unemployment among young people. According to the plan there will be 56 areas of study for study which will certify the participants in 1 to 6 month duration courses some of which will be accredited internationally.

According to latest statistics of HRM, there are 2000 vacancies in construction industry, >3000 vacancies in tourism industry, 700 vacancies in transport industry and 800 vacancies in fisheries industry.

Out of 205033 locals eligible for work, 38602 are out of work whilst another 73840 expatriates works in different sectors throughout the country.

In theory this is alright, jobs are there lying vacant unmatched to prospective job-seekers. Job seekers also would have to be helped to become skilled if they are not. But the real problem that 30% of people eligible to work who remain unemployed is because of unrealistically low wages. Consider the picture below.

The picture is a typical job ad by a top local business brand which clearly is seen offering an unreasonably low pay for a demanding job. As for skills required, fiber optic networking could not be attempted without skills. Yet a lousy 3k per month is offered for full time employment which actually means, the employer is not interested in hiring locals. A local simply cannot survive on that kind of pay in Male’ island if he does not live in a hole or a cave or needs to eat and drink water even if occasionally!
Job ads like these are clearly designed to exclude locals from work and is all the more reason why we shall have a basic minimum wage and other protective measures like work visa quotas. Ideally a country would be left better off not having to legislate on issues like this, but if employers do not take the social responsibility then they shall be prompted to. Its also worth noting that the worst offenders when it comes to dodging social responsibility are the local employers who still have pre-slave era beliefs about the worker class.

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Minimum wage debate restarted..

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 wov moment


All industries and endeavours starts modestly, runs a gradually till it meets a defining moment in its history (the ‘wov’ moment) and from there on, the industry gets transformed. It’s like growing up after long and seemingly inexhaustibly years of youth. In a small and developing (really?) country like Maldives, its still possible to see these defining moments in history at various walks of life.

One example of such a defining moment in the modern history of Maldives is the dhoni album of Zero Degree. Prior to which almost all songs and music were copycats from India or elsewhere. The lyrics were mostly about love, nationalism and good values. Dhoni album was a big change from its contemporaries at the time. The music was original, the lyrics was about historically themed dhivehi country gnere or something similar. From that moment onward our little music industry just transformed. Its now like artisitic suicide to sing or even hum a hindhi tune or to put dhivehi lyrics to a hindhi song.

Another example of a defining moment can be the struggle for multi party democracy in the country. Although a lot has happened, and every party or politician will want to claim a share of the history, the fact is that a lot of people did a lot to dismantle the one party state we had and looking back over the years, its difficult to pin-point the the equivalent day in our politics when the Berlin Wall came down. It could have been the secret signing up of members to MDP, or it could have been the first date when Sandhaanu, Hukuru or even Sangu was printed. It could even have been the day when Dr. Hassan Saeed chanced upon the then constitution of Maldives and discovered  that multi-parties were actually allowed under the constitution. Whatever the occasion or the many occasions, Maldives was a very different country from what it was then and its unlikely that there will be any going back to the past.

The same has not yet happened to other more areas of the country which hopefully will not be the case for a long time. For example, our media although it has come a long way from singing praise of the dear leader all the time is still in the clutches of both sides of political process. The opposition is doing all it can to legitimize its hold on the media through the parliament and the ruling party is doing all it can to hold it in their camp. Media ideally shall be too powerful for parties and governments to meddle with, it shall also be independent, able to doom and condemn politician’s career  where it crosses lines with media. Control of the media shall not be vested in any political party and it shall be just and balanced and be useful to the people. Those who work in the media shall also receive more training and be able to question hard-talk like to people who claim to bring Utopia to the country.

The moon has not been visited by humans for a long time now since the early heyday of space explorations. They found out its a dusty inhospitable place so they stopped sending astronauts there. Nor has much happened in the tourism industry of Maldives  since the first batch of Italian tourists came back in the seventies looking for fun. Apart from a few international brand names setting up camp in a few resorts, nothing has happened. There is no minimum wage for the worker, there is complete opacity as to his or her benefits or job security in the job as was the case in the past. The only glimmer of hope for the worker which materialized in the form of a worker’s rights bill at the parliament was diluted so much to the whims and wishes of the resort owners in the Majlis that it would be better to draft the same thing anew (which the HR ministry seems to be doing).

the livable wage


Despite our country swiftly becoming a recognized brand name in leisure tourism around the world, there is a lot we have to catch up with other countries in terms of how they treat their very own kind. Resorts or islands are not a new phenomenon. Some other countries also have white sands and small islands where tourists come. However ours and theirs difference seems to be how ‘they’ treat their own people. The employees who do all the hard work need a fairer deal then what they get now. In most other countries they have moved beyond the minimum wage, tackled the liveable-wage whilst we are still stuck at the minimum wage. There was one piece of small legislation timidly sent to Citizens’ Majlis which tried to figure out what the minimum wage should be for Maldives, which was duly killed by a Majlis member for apparently no reason (other than the fact that these concepts simply doesn’t register in their hollow shells…{forgive sentiment, we workers are entitled to be a little bit angry when our issues are trampled most unceremoniously by these MPs}). What is absurd about this situation is that our employers not at risk of imminent danger to their business by being mandated to follow or do better than a minimum wage. Nor is there a healthy business lobby in Majlis to kill workers interest except from MATI which is kind of a think-tank for the business folks. Even the situation being as it is, and the country enjoying a healthy unemployment rate, nobody seems to be worried about this. And there are reasons for their short-sightedness.
Reasons:
1.The govt. is too fond of playing PR for the whole world, their theme is environmental protectionism. The current government as well as the former government did the same. They all are good for PR and environmental protectionism is easy to play act. Confronting real life issues is tough and thankless and they are aware of it.
2.The parliament recently (about 2 years ago) got the freedom to set their own wages and leaves and other perks, so from then on its like the boy who got locked in a sweet shop! Why should they care when they are so much relieved from reality of life?
3.The civil service is too polarized and undecided as to where their ultimate faith shall be. For the past 30 years, they played poodles to a dictatorial regime doing only its bidding like faithful robots. They have yet to realize that they are also workers and are not any better than the rest of the crowd.

Great nations of the world arose to prominence by being generous to their own kind. In the words of Henry Ford (1863-1947, Founder of Ford Motor Company) ‎”One’s own employees ought to be one’s own best customers… Paying high wages is behind the prosperity of this country.”

So we need to set a minimum wage to workers. The average pay of workers in resorts is still around 3000rf per month. Which is barely survivable if the worker has his family in the islands. However lack of medical and educational facilities in the islands forces the workers to emigrate to Male’ which wipes out 50 to 80% of the average income of the family for rent.