Local workers of Sheraton have stopped work and are on strike citing service unbelievably low charge, discrimination against workers and nepotism. According to one worker in the island, the service charge has been around an unimpressive 600$ for most of the year including in the high season. This is in contrast to $2k and above in Kihaava Villas and other top resorts in the country. It’s strange that big brands like Sheraton could have got things so wrong in the middle of high season when everywhere resort workers are expected to earn substantial incomes. One worker opined that the resort feels immune from pressure because of the strong connections to the resort owners (Universal Group) with the ruling class.
Confrontation with police had happened with the protesters in Alimatha when the police arrested 3 of the employees.
An employee of Alimatha said that protests took place in the island, following the dismissal of the employees who led the preparation of a petition requesting an increase in employee allowance. The petition, signed by 36 Maldivian employees, requests for an increase in the salary and service charge provided by the resort as the employees are not able to make ends meet with their present incomes. Ashaam Hassan, one of the employees who led the preparation of the petition, that the management had said that it was not able to cater to any of the employees’ demands.
According to Sun.mv workers of Alimatha went on strike after the management decided to terminate two workers who sent a petition to the management to increase their pay. Alimatha is one of the most beautiful resorts in Felidhu atoll and the clientele are mostly repeaters. It belongs to the old bad category of resorts where generally workers are expected to live and work hard… quite a different situation from modern big brand resorts which pay good wages and service charge.
A strike in its abstract sense is an amazing social organism. It has its own heart and beat, and most likely will be unpredictable. Nor will its goals be clear or targets definite.
It could be like fire,
mist or snow
or anything for that matter
(forgive the poetic part)
but its hard to define.
At least that’s the sort of past 45 or so strikes that has happened in various resorts in the country to various degrees. But of course there are rules to follow. TEAM (tourism employees association of Maldives) is forever at pains to stress this point that employees shall always play by the rules. But who is TEAM when the employees rights are in jeopardy? Its like the perpetual battle between the parents and the children. The children puts on tantrums, win or loose their cause and ultimately falls to the protective umbrella of family. Likewise, even though most resort employees are not paying members of TEAM, they are always ready to help when an employee is thrown out of a resort for a strike. Anyways…
Incomplete info, or superiors deliberately raising workers expectations such as that of a yearly bonus or the next month’s service charge to motivate the team for a full season etc, are all fine ingredients for a destructive strike. The potent wisdom in this situation is to deliver as much was promised. The language barrier is also another factor which contributes a lot to misunderstandings which develops in to full scale riots.
The perception that others are crooks (especially the accountants) have connotation with the ghastly belief that ghosts predominantly live in dirty places such as cesspool etc! But objectively thinking, one can can arrive at the absurdity as to why ghosts shall live in such places when we loath such places. So it could be our conscience or the inverse of that function that makes us believe that only we are clean and others are dirty. This is not about exonerating the class of people called accountants but it won’t harm to be a little generous as to believe that people can actually be honest.
And then there are the leaders. Some lead not by knowing they are leaders but it takes others to realize who is leading whom in a strike situation. In a basic primitive sense, a leader must have strong vocals chords to be able to lead the sheep over the din of dissenting voices. In this situation the leader needs not to have coherent ideas or grand plans, but a high decibel voice to command and shout back at dissent. Its not about answering point by point, but rather thwart discussion by noise!
The utility of having a docile spokesperson to liaise with the management or owners is a very prominent need for a runaway strike as its leaders use such a person for such use!
Arriving at the value of a withheld service charge or a defrauded bonus in a resort situation is a possibility if people are willing to use their brains. A resort works like a clock with many cogs and wheels turning in their routines. Each cog and wheel is bound by its design parameters (in this case things like confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement etc). However short of stealing company’s data to justify a strike, employees can achieve the same result like by following the narrative of the three blind folks who tried to describe the elephant! Forgive the round about way we describe this but, each was wrong individually but collectively they were able to describe the thing they never saw! Likewise, a simple collaborative spreadsheet model (on Excel for eg) could provide some limits to what can be expected for a given period of time, with such and such occupancy, room rates etc. But where is the utility of going through all this when we have a better hunch? But then again, is a hunch good enough when enough is not enough?
We are getting reports that a strike is happening at Alidhoo Cinnamon Island over last month’s pay. Apparently the resort has still not paid August month’s pay to the staff and is not even able to tell the staff when the resort can pay them. The same situation was repeated in June when staff had to go on strike to get their pay! That time the resort fired 12 staff for their legitimate demand on pay.
Under the labour laws of the country, every employer is required to pay the previous month’s salary no later than the 10th of the next month. Cinnamon Island resort which is owned and managed by JResorts Maldives (formerly Yacht Tours Maldives) has a history of abusing workers rights and flout labour laws without fear of reprisal. The managing director of the company happens to be a senior member of the ruling MDP and a former parliamentarian whose wife is the current SAARC secretary general. It is scandalous that such high profile persons can afford to openly flout laws of the country with impunity.
We call on the Tourism Ministry and the Human Resources ministry to look in to the recurring problem of delays on staff’s monthly pay at resorts managed by JResorts and to bring those responsible to justice.
Not to be unfair or one sided but if a survey is made of all the resorts in Maldives and asked which employers are the worst, Jresorts will come to the bottom of the results. There is very little doubt about that. Its a combination of bad politics and corrupt business practices which views the workers as nothing better than paid slaves. This is in very contrast to the excellent service resort workers give to their high paying clients who blissfully are unaware that the workers who pamper them in their expensive holidays sometimes go without pay for months while they still retain the smile.
Our solidarity with the wronged staff of Alidhoo Cinnamon Island who were summarily dismissed for asking for their last month’s salary. This sends a chilling message to honest workers who toil hard in resorts far away from family and friends that employers can still cheat and threat and getaway with everything and nobody seems to take notice!
Here are some background info about Alidhoo the resort, the parent company and the owner of the bussiness.
Jresorts is owned and managed by Mr. Abdulla Jabir who is frequently referred to as a self made businessman from Huvadhooo Atoll. However like all creations of the state Mr. Jabir was also a creation of the former administration. Specifically Mr. jabir rose to prominence in tourism industry by association with Yameen the powerful minister who held many ministerial portfolios and half-brother of the Maumoon the last president. It could be safely assumed that almost all of Jabir’s resorts were built, renovated or maintained by finances and materials from deals with the State Trading Organization whose board chairman was also Yameen at the time. So unlike most resort owners who struggled with finance arrangements, Jabir had an important friend at the right place and time. Mr. Jabir’s wife the Diyana the current SAARC secretary general is not associated with his bussiness but its frequently noted in forums and local news that the position for Dhiyana was offered as part of a political deal to keep Mr. Jaabir away from ruling party politics. He is the only prominent politician/businessman in the country to have been in all major political parties, DRP, MDP, Jumuhooee Party, And People’s Alliance (Yaameen’s party) in so a short period of time. Basically he is an opportunist businessman involved in politics for the business interests like everywhere else around the world.
Jresorts currently owns Alidhoo, , KudaRah, Vatavarreha, Funamaudda among many other islands. The parent company of the islands is Yacht Tours Maldives. Past management deals and ownerships include Dhonveli Beach and Spa which has been sold to John Keels Holding Co of Sri lanka and Herethere which was leased from MTDC. The Herethere deal has since been abandoned after a sizable loss to everyone including the MTDC. Jresorts has also been awarded an island in lieu of a failed bid he presented to Vilivaru and Biyadhoo which was a precedent which has since not been replicated.
Two important and interesting stories in the tourism sector at the moment. The first is about the strike at Rangali (which has ended now) which is one of the better resorts in the country and another is an attempted robbery at Baros which left one attacker dead.. the investigation continues. Links to both stories are here….
On the first issue, the protesting staff alleges discrimination of pay which is very common practice in resorts and elsewhere. Generally if two workers are employed in the same position and one being an expatriate and another local, the chances are that the local will get less. Its quite common and has been an issue protested over many times in different resorts and other businesses in the past as well. Another issue the protesters claim is that the employer holding back service charge which the resort denies. Although the strike is called off now we understand that the resort agreed to raise the service charge to levels in other similar level resorts which means agreement that service charge has been manipulated.
Under the labour law employers are required to pay all but 1% of service charges taken from guests to staff and yet most resorts withhold part of this income. But for a Hilton branded resort to go to this low to profiteer at the expense legitimate incomes of the staff is unbelievable!
On the issue of the attempted robbery at Baros , one attacker is known to have died and its not clear the circumstance of the death. However it is known that there are head injuries and that the attacker was pulled out from lagoon while trying to make escape after a scuffle with the staff. Its the second time this year that the robbers have attacked resorts and this time they were just not lucky enough. Resorts have to come up with better policies to protect the island and be more vigilant as the robbers are getting more daring and dangerous with each attack. Ideally the solution to these problems could be through policing and judicial system. However with the government and opposition parties firmly locked at horns, any useful measures to overhaul the judicial, and penitentiary system could not be expected. Its also understood that most of the violent and dangerous crimes that happen in the country are committed by hardened criminals who are released to the community in the midst of their prison term for various flimsy reasons.
“Citizens in Maldives have recently won important rights. The 2008 constitution guarantees fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech and association. The constitution also guarantees the right to strike, which is an extremely important right for workers. Without the right to strike workers are left powerless. In dictatorships like Saudi Arabia or Burma, the denial of the right to strike is a key weapon in suppressing democracy.”
Please read the rest of the article here at Minivan News
That was a comment by a recent guest to Kurumba who actually witnessed the strike action in Kurumba writing in Trip Advisor site. The guest mentions that the management of the hotel made no effort to explain the situation and that they (the guests) do not blame the staff for protesting against their poor facilities. They just believed that it should have been handled better by Universal the company that owns the island.
These are just typical lines of thinking by average guests and hotel managements shall be wary of thinking they scored points against protesting staff after intimidating them to end their legitimate strike by using security forces on made up charges. The sympathies of the guests are invariably with the staff when its known that the employer ill treats them. In the case of recent Kurumba strike, there was very little the management can, even if it tried to explain to the guests what caused the strikes in the first place because it would have raised more questioned than it would have answered.
The bottom line is that there is no excuse for not addressing the legitimate concerns of the staff because in the long run its far more cost effective to well treat the staff than to be mean with them. Kurumba certainly has played dual personality of the mean employer to the staff and the ever so gentle hotelier for the guests for too long. Now is the time to discard the dual personae and come clean like a civilized hotelier.
Read the story of the Kurumba strike at Asian Food Worker
After detaining the 19 protesters in Kurumba in the high security jail Dhoonidhoo, the strike came to an end at Kurumba but many questions remain unanswered.
The management of Kurumba does not seem to be bothered about the very valid issues the staff raised and effectively used their connections to the government to silence the voices of the workers. The police maintain the 19 who were detained in Dhoonidhoo were not in detention which is a blatant lie as Dhoonidhoo is the Maldivian equivalent of Guantanamo Bay which is common knowledge. It only shows how unashamed the authorities are in helping out their business partners at the cost of impartiality to legitimate hardworking staff.
The fact that no violence occurred during the whole ordeal and no vandalism were committed by the staff did not seem to register with the authorities, which shows the demonstration was peaceful and for a reason.
In an interview with Minivan News, a director of Universal Group of resorts is said to have reported that the company might have lost 2 million dollars because of the strike which shows the kinds of money this resort in question makes and yet how poorly they are prepared to treat the staff. A case in point is the demand of the staff that there be a minimum wage of 3000rf which is peanuts compared to the money the resort generates from serving to world class clientèle. However the resort would not even consider it, shows how miserly the employer is to the employees.
During the whole ordeal the resort did a great PR campaign which is to their credit. The resort does not have to suffer and the owners does indeed have rights for their business not to suffer. However the important lesson that hitherto humble and law abiding staff arose and demonstrated for a reason sadly does not seem to have sunk to the collective consciousness of the management or owners of the resort. Perhaps it maybe caused by the inwardly policies of the group which blinds them to the reality of how staff are pampered in other resorts. Its now common for most resorts of the country to treat the staff especially well with amenities and services such as hot water, air-conditioned rooms, wifi, organized picnics, celebrating staff birthdays etc as standard and the difference being issues like training, promotion, education and staff exchange schemes, service charge distribution etc.
Relevant links to the story:
- in minivan
- a former universal employee writes
Recent news from Kurunmba village is that the resort is shutdown for business and the guests has been relocated to other resorts while some guests who opted to cut short their holidays have departed to their countries. Its reported that the whole team of employees are on strike.
The strike was called by the staff who cite ill treatment by the management, poor food and accommodation arrangements, intimidation at work, deception on service charge payout among a long list of grievances. The list of staff grievances were submitted to the top management which was only able to promise better food and accommodation “in the future” and that the pay structure and service charge payout arrangements were said to stand as it is. It shall be noted that the main demands of the workers are better pay and the management failed to acknowledge just that.
Universal Group of hotels which operates Kurunba is notorious for its treatment of workers and its commonly acknowledged fact that workers will apply for job there if other attempts fail at securing a job at other better international brands of resorts where conditions are better. The sad fact of the times is that Kurunba Village despite being the first resort to open in the Maldives, has not learned the lessons from its history. Namely that staff are the most valuable asset a service business has and its indicative of the fact that the resorts occupancy fell to 0% from 85% just one day after the strike action began.
Following the story in many places (mentioned below) its amazing to learn how the management of Kurumba Village is out of touch with reality in terms of seeing the staff as a team and all the modern adjectives associated with team work etc. Grudging basic necessities such as air conditioning to staff in these five-star resorts to staff is beyond belief in this age and time in these world class resorts. This is all more bizarre that other 2 star and star-less resorts are able to provide better services and better pay to staff than kurnmba which is run by the biggest business group in the country.
A very relevant point one reader commented in Haveeru is that the cause of the strike have much less to do with the demands the staff has given to the management but to the policies of the managing company Par Aquam (A partner company of Universal) and how it deals with the staff. The writer states that the company introduces haphazard policies to staff and require immediate compliance, and the management company sidelines loyal staff who have served the company many long years infavour of their friends or acquaintances who take over those jobs (which is where the discrimination factor is). Generally the writer alleges the strike can soley be blamed on the management company’s attitude to staff rather than anything else.
Elsewhere talking to MNBC One, Mp.Easa the Tourism Employees Association’s president stated that the demands the demonstrating staff put to the management were actually rights enshrined in the labour law which cannot be compromised or talked over. Easa maintained these are not favours for the management to give but rights the staff are entitled.
Yes Finally the Universal owned resort Kurumba Maldives formerly known as Kurumba Village is officially on strike! Despite catering for diplomats, prominent businessmen, and generally to an affluent clientèle, the resort has a tall list of grievances against the staff to address which is the reason of the strike. It is quite true that the staff of KV are low paid, poorly fed, and unlovingly accommodated whilst job and work discrimination exists to a level where it can be said to be above the sky. To cap the list of woes, the service charge which the resort charges from guests are cheated on while being distributed to the staff. Then there is the little issue of over working staff without overtime pay which is brazenly against the labour law and accepted norms of business. The situation was quite the same for 38 years and now it appears the staff are protesting these conditions.
Here is the story @ Velidhoo.com
Here is the story in Minivan News
The story is also on Maldivestoday.com
When the fish processing plant workers in kuuddu were said to take week long leave every other week, with a half salary as a cost cutting measure, they had to strike to get the management to listen that they have also to share in the cost cutting measures. Each of the management person costs roughly 5 or 6 times the salary of an average line staff without their allowances and yet they did not feel like sacrificing a coin for others.
When the salary of the dhoni crews and captains failed to reach them at the end of the month, the staff had to resort to kidnapping themselves and their dhonis for the management of Dhoni Service to listen to them and grudgingly release their salaries.
In the recent Shangri la case, (which is comical in that its all about a playstation) the staff had to protest at dismissal of the four butlers which warranted in their own dismissal prompting further unrest but now the management is trying to distance itself from its earlier decisions. But one wonders, why does everything have to come to this bitter end? Why does even solvable simple problems become monster sized and waste so much of energy and money from each side? The answers probably lie in inaccurate judgment. Employers have to be more considerate about their staff and their welfare. Employees are also fellow human beings who have dependents on them for their earnings. We are all in this for a purpose. The purpose may not be the carefully concocted words of the “core values” of this company or that company. Those words mean nothing when the company has to defend itself from allegation of mistreatment to the workers etc. In such times of crisis, a higher set of morals take precedence over those core values which is all about Public Relations and damage limitations. Ultimately its all about lying their way out of the issue and failing to address the real cause of the problems in the first place.
Sounds hilarious, but its true! The problem occurred when 4 butlers of the resort were found playing a game on a Playstation console they brought to a vacant room and the security personnel noticed it. The security personnel tried to do a military style investigation using military language like “no body moves…”, “stay where you are” and took photographs of the “crime scene” which irked the gamesters. Things got out of hand when the security chief tried to manhandle one staff when he exited the “Crime scene” which followed heated exchanges and the matter was taken up by the HR which hastily decided to dismiss all the 4 butlers. When staff protested at the unusually harsh measures, all 64 protesting staff were suspended from work which was understood by staff as summary dismissal. The end of the matter is still not in sight and the police have also been called by the resort to thwart imagined threats to property by playstation loving staff! Latest news from the island have it that the big shots from the head office has arrived and consultations with the protesters will be conducted tomorrow morning.
Now it clearly goes beyond the pale of human reasoning as to how a five star resort with a good reputation can become so incomprehensible dealing with youthful staff and the whole situation becomes a full blown strike for what? A playstation game?
Butlers by nature of their job are always supposed at the beck and call of the guests and if the resort does not provide adequate facilities for staff recreation such lax in standard might occur. However, given the harmless nature of their “Crime” and the chain of events that ultimately lead to these drastic measures, calls into question the attitude by the management to the staff. In average low key resorts, owned and managed by the local owner or entrepreneur such “crimes” are common and equally drastic measures against such “crimes” are much more common. However what is NOT common is for big brand names in tourism sector like Shangri La to fall in to childish mistakes and take a hit on their reputation.
Even though all resorts have their own small rules-of-engagement books for staff, such rules shall not contravene the labour law of the country. The labour law is very clear in that it allows not summary dismissals unless on very serious issues such as dishonesty, threat to property or life.
This time the protest happened in Male’ and the protesters were raising the issue of discrimination against management. They were protesting outisde Ameeniyya School where a job fair organized by the Reethi resort was comming to end after 2 days starting from Friday. According to the protesters the job fair organized by the Reethi Rah management was only a front to employ staff with the exception of locals. Reethi Rah has been labeled as strongly anti- locals in the past and the situation in the island doesn’t seem to have improved. According to Mr. Ahmed Easa, the president of Tourism Employees Association of Mldives 3 such job fairs has been organized by the resort in the last 18 months and yet no locals were hired for the resort in the fair held in Thoddu and that only one person was hired from the fair held in Addu.
He also said that Reethi Rah is notorious for summary dismissals of local staff and that in 2006 sixty locals were summarily dismissed, and in 2007 fourteen were summarily dismissed and in this very year and in 2008 more than 13 locals were summarily dismissed.
He also said that there are currently 10 pending cases against Reethi Rah management in the Employment Tribunal and that Reethi Rah is the only employer to have been lodged most number of complaints in the Employment Tribunal.
Strike action has taken place in Paradise Island Resort of Villa Group Hotels with protesting staff of the island demanding unpaid arrears of service charge and overtime pay.
The demands of the protesters were met by the Group and the chairman of the group himself came to negotiate with the protesting staff.
Mr. Gasim promised to pay the demanded monies as of this evening and explained the delays were caused by the recent sudden requirement by the government to repay some huge loans the Group had to pay to the BML and the global recession which is beginning to show effects on the tourism industry. The strike is reported to be resolved and the workers have resumed their duties.
Reliable sources tells us that there indeed is indeed going to be a strike in the island over withholding of service charge of which 99% according to labor law shall be distributed to staff. Currently whatever percentage that is distributed in the resort amounts to 50$ per person and the staff are reportedly not very happy about it. At Dhonveli service charge is distributed on the 15th of every month and the staff are awaiting the coming of the 15th of this month.
It’s becoming a sad fact of life that the majority of the employers in Maldives still have the mentality that they are allowed to break the law whenever it suits them and expects total compliance when it comes to laws applicable to staff.
Strikes and demonstrations were indeed something of a novelty to the tourism industry in Maldives and in the past few weeks a series of strikes 6 resorts have left the industry bosses worried. They are worried (they say) because of the implications of the strikes in the middle of high season among other things. Granted that industrial strikes were a novelty and that they are not the best possible solution but there has to be admission that it was a necessary evil. Tourism industry has its ups and downs and tourism workers had their problems and worries which should have been given some thoughts from day one. But the standard answer to staff complaints from the majority of the resorts would be things like this…
• “If you are not happy with how things are going here then there is jetty…”
• “So you think you know some things we don’t?”
• “So you are saying that I am doing a bad job here… eh?”
• “Go on… go to complain… Go to ministry go to court or wherever…”
• “Why are you making all this fuss? Haven’t you been in cadet while in school? There is a rule in cadet that you are not to question why…but to do and die… remember?
• “I have noticed that the Maldivians here are the most trouble makers… they make all the trouble”
Etc Etc at al
Now if this is the kind of mentality the “managements” had then (which up to now they have) there is little reason to be optimistic that talks with “managements” will yield any results. Hence there were strikes. And there is likely to be more to follow. But what was the standard course of action before strikes began?
It was mainly futile “calls” to the tourism ministry and sometimes petitions and on a very few occasions court cases which needless to say failed most of the time. On average what would happen when a disgruntled staff or a group of staff would call the tourism ministry and lodge complaint is that they would listen and if the nature of the complaint is sufficiently convincing they would send some nobody from the ministry to the resort in question. The “nobody” will of course meet the managers and scribble some “nothings” on his clip folder and take some pics of the staff area and have lunches or dinner with the human recourses boss in the restaurant and be gone in the next departure boat. That would possibly be the end of the matter and the “management” out of courtesy or whatever might say a few soothing words to the angry staff and possibly that would be the end of the matter.
Letters and petitions to the ministry would yield much less and nobody in the tourism industry could recall any written answers the ministries or offices sent them answering or even acknowledging receipts of the complaint.
Now as to what would have happened to the staff who might have lodged a complaint to high offices, he or she would certainly be dismissed one way or another and even signing on a petition would be like signing one’s own dismissal forms. He or she would fall in the categories of “insubordination” or something similar and would be on a black list from the moment.
This is not something’s which happened in a long distant past but is happening even right now. What that has changed is that there is new government which came to power using people to demonstrate on the streets against injustices hence an understanding of a novelty use of a form of protest. What the protesters rely on is a hastily passed labor law by the then government for their own political scores rather than genuine empathy for resort staff. What is understood from the strikes is that the all powerful business elites would have to think about reforms and treat resort staff as human beings.
Stop strikes in tourism industry says the newly formed tribunal at the labor ministry. So says Tourism Employees Association president Easa and so says almost everyone. Even the self proclaimed shameless Tourism Workers Union which is representing anything but the tourism workers is singing the same tune. But should they be listened to? Are they justified in preaching peace when the change is in the air? Lets take a closer look at the issue in question.
Although the majority of tourism workers in Maldives are young they are not staging demonstrations and calling strikes for fun. There are real issues which they are raising and most of the issues they raise are solvable and realistic issues. Political opportunism has not yet entered the fray although the momentum is there. Examples of issues the workers raise include the all important service charge (fair distribution of which), improvement on food and accommodation and sometimes pure drinking water. Then of course there is the odd demand or two of a few dismissals who most of the time would have been a management person who openly advocated against the wishes of the protesting staff. These being the kinds of issues the protesters raise lets see why these issues rarely comes to discussion between management and staff which in theory would have eliminated the need to strike and loose a little bit of reputation of the hotel as well as a few badly needed reservations..
As all those who urge the tourism industry workers to refrain from staging strikes and demonstrations reiterate, the way forward shall be with negotiations be it directly with the management of the involved resort or with government agencies as third parties who seems to have found a new fondness of brokering peace between these two classes. The way forward indeed is through dialogue and not confrontation but this is strictly in the realm of theory and abstract academics. In real terms if an employee or a group of employees appraoach the management of any resort management in the Maldives with a list of demands, propositions or even a few ideas to discuss the probability that the group or the person will be fired the next day is very great. The most optimistic probability would be greater than 50% which is not an acceptable risk most workers are willing to take. Hence the idea of strikes or demonstrations become more attractive than talking politely or begging blithely. So aswell as urging the workers to refrain from staging strikes the peace making lobby shall criticize the managements of resorts to trim their collective egoes and be a little bit democratic in their ways of thinking. This unfortunately does not seems to be happening and is indicative of how out of touch with reality the preaching lobby is.