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.

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What has to happen…

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What has to happen is much… and they better happen all at the same time.
Lets start enumerating them.
1) Resort owners or managements have to come to a collective understanding that staff are as much an asset to their business as are other contributing factors which constitutes to their success story. Currently to the many resort managements and resort owners (Especially the local ones) this does not appear to be their understanding according to our unfinished survey. Those resorts that do appear to acknowledge this fact is clearly in their own class of resorts and clearly is making more money if money is the objective (which it is.. and always was)

2) The resort workers has to do a crash course in many work related subjects such as striking, petitioning, lobbying and demanding rights in the light of new labor laws and the country signing up to International labor Office. Most of these involve lots of legal mumbo jumbo the average resort worker has to become familiar with and do so in a very short period of time.

3) Those resorts which still cling to the idea of running their own tropical empires from their resorts has to come out of a long slumber and face 21st century reality. Change has swept through America (Obama said that) as well as Maldives. More and more resort workers are coming to a broader understanding of their rights and issues are becoming more vocal in their assertions and demands. It shall be noted that for the most part whatever is raised as issues by resort workers are clearly well defined rights and where there is clash of conflicts for the most part is one of virtue against vice.

4) The economic slowdown of the world is still in a declining slope and the earliest foretasted growth is 2 years to this date as such much is there to be done to adjust to the survival of the fittest game. Catering only for the richest people of the world has its own disadvantages one of which being that the economic woes affect them more than others. Prominent tour operators in Maldives has been raising this issue through the years many times that we have too many 5 star and 6 star properties and too few for the mass market. Now is a good time to do the long overdue soul searching and come up with better schemes for better times to come.

5) With the end of the Sri Lankan civil war the tourist to this region would have a one more choice of a destination which might affect the tourism of Maldives to some extent if the worst case scenarios are to be believed. However it has to be understood that the products on offer in Sri Lanka and Maldives are quite different and will be complementing rather than competing.

6) Time it seems is running out for everyone… and more so for us here in Maldives. Atleast that’s the picture coming out from the world media. The sequences were like these.. The Russians hoisted a flag somewhere in Arctic seabed using submarines claiming sovereignty over a no-man’s land followed by the Norwegians, Swedes Americans, British as well as Canadians. All these countries are expecting the ice to melt over the poles of the world in a few years from now and to monopolize the gas and oil fields supposedly hidden under the the ice. The melting ice becomes water and our country being the shallowest place on earth maybe the first to be submerged if we follow this logic. However this is an over oversimplification of a long sequence of maybe’s and might be’s and yet still what is unknown about this whole episode is more worrying than what is known… Hence the time.

Protests in Chaya (Dhonveli Beach) Resort

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According to local media reports there is indeed a protest going full swing in Chaya Island with the protesting staff calling for the employer to abide by the labour law among the many concerns. The protestors are seeking written assuarances from the management that they would indeed do so which would be a difficult demand since issuing such a writ would be admitting to breaking the law which no employer would willingly do.

Among the various concerns the dissatisfied staff raise are:

  • that the resort pursues a policy of racial discrimination whereby the Sri Lankan staff are said to recieve favourable conditions in work and pay while the rest Indians, Bangladeshis and Maldivians are said to recieve the less than adequate or favourable treatment in comparision.
  • That the management has deliberately filled up all managerial positions in a discriminatory manner and gives no scope for development.
  • That the resort has failed to observe the ratio of expatriate quotas which is a direct violation of labour law.
  • And the protesting expatriate staff have been threatened with dismissals should they continue with the protest.

Chaya Island which used to be Dhonveli Beach Resort is a popular destination for surfers from Australia and has a full year long tourist season which is unlike many resorts in Maldives. Although popular among surfers the resort has had a bad reputation for illtreating staff under various managements. The current management under John Keels group of hotels has done nothing to address this issue and has infact made matters worse by their unflinching stance on improving relations with staff.

To climb up on the coorporate ladder…

“Have you chosen our resort as a career path ? Or would this be just another job…” Its standard question in many a job interview and the answer shall always be that the applicant would indeed want the position on offer to be his career path. No other answer is necessary and nothing else is expected. Its sometimes amazing how grown up people cannot grasp the eccentricity of the answers and the questions a typical job interview could unearth but its always taken in stride. For the applicant the situation demands it and for the interviewer its just part of the job. But how easy its to climb up on the corporate ladder and how rough a ride is the average career path of a resort employee?

Like all things in resort life, nothing is certain and the least that could be certain is of course the job or the career. What is needed for the doubt and suspense to end along with the career is sometimes a simple expression. “You are fired!”. What will follow is the termination papers and whatever is due as salary and that’s basically the end. Up until this very moment situation in resorts across Maldives is somewhat similar to this. Staff could be fired for anything and recourse to litigation is not something average Maldivians can afford.

To some extent how the staff can be hired can also be as hassle free if the right strings are pulled. This is true of Bangladeshis as well as Indians, Sri Lankans and Maldivians. To be hired if one is a Maldivian he or she should preferably have a close family member high up in the management hierarchy and if an expatriate than certain amounts of money will have to change hands before the deal is done.

What is important to note is that despite all the correct noises being made and the bills (not utility bills…) passed by the majlis, tourism industry in Maldives is still being steered as it was done before. What if anything changed, its the terminology and nothing else. Hence and for the reasons mentioned above, the way to climb up on the corporate ladder shall be obvious. What is required on the part of the employee is to be a “yes man” or a “yes woman” (to be affirmative no matter what..) The employee should not take it to heart all the good things preached so frequently by the management that they have to treat the resort property with as much loving and care as it were their own. Such advice are only good on paper and should be implemented if only there were witnesses to bear it or mangers passing by to notice it. The goal of the employee shall not be to be a do gooder. But to be seen as one! And that’s an important distinction.

Discriminating against workers

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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.