Offering state dignitary title to tourism pioneers… again!

Slapping each other’s back on perceived achievements is a very familiar sight among the rich and politicians. President Anni conferring ‘State Dignitary’ title to Muhammad Umar Manik and Champa Hussein Afeef, yesterday is another such feat which needs to be commented about.
Despite their unremarkable running of several resorts (where workers toil in slave-like conditions), these two individuals have been receiving state dignitary title almost every year since ‘recognitions’ began. The citation of their award each year lists the same old tale of how they were there with the first batch of tourists to the country. But after hearing this consistent tale for the past few decades, one wonders weather is it not enough? Will we have to bear to hear the praise of Champa and Mu Manik for the rest of our lives? Would not somebody recognize the ‘others’ (a significant number of others) who worked hard to bring smiles to the guest and made the holiday possible? The waiters, roomboys the laundry boys, the engineering boys and so many other boys and girls who started their career at about the same age as Champa and Mu Manik who worked on their properties? Of course they are no longer boys and girls any more, time has taken its toll and they have grown to respectable old age with no recognition of their services. For sacrificing half of their adult life, banished away in 5 star resort islands, away from their families and friends what have they got in terms of recognition? Very little apart from the satisfaction that they have been useful for themselves and their loved ones back at home irrespective of how tough for them life was..
Recognition and awards are momentary 5 minutes of fame kind of things most people can do away with, but what about a proper recognition of their services such as a pension they can rely on once they are retired and back in their islands?
In most other countries business regulations and norms requires private employers to make arrangements for such cases where the staff can retire to a dignified retired life, however no such requirements were required of our ‘state dignitaries’ and those who served all their life in their resorts are just faceless nameless people once discharged from the resort after their useful resort life.
So we call on the government to rescind these farce recognitions and be judicious in selecting those who are worthy of recognition. The already rich and famous needs not be recognized because they are already recognized. People know Champ and Mu Manik and successive presidents needs not to introduce them again and again. Champa and Mu Manik were not doing favours for anyone except themselves. This country would have produced more entrepreneurs besides Champ and Mu Manik if the government plays even handed with all its citizens. The already rich in this country are rich because the government helped them in one way or another way. Bright ideas, innovative approaches and dedicated work have yet to be recognized in the country.

relevant links: velidhoo online

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Kurumba reboots!

Kurumba Village Universal

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:

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.

Stabbing at Kurumba

kurumbaaerial

Reports of a local being stabbed by an Indian colleague has been received but the details are sketchy. The incident seems to have been about an argument between colleagues which somehow came to blows and inadvertently stabbing. The attack is not life threatening and the victim is said to be receiving health care and recuperating well. However the management is said to have taken sides in being sympathetic to the expatriate in true tradition of Universal Group policies which enraged the local staff who demanded that the attacker be handed over to police for questioning. The police were contacted by the staff while the management of the island did everything possible to prevent police from conducting their investigation by refusing approval for police boat to come ashore. However police was finally left with no choice but to come ashore despite the resort’s approval because some staff have threatened unspecified action if the attacker was let scott free. The police did conduct their investigation and the attacker is said to have been taken to Male’ for further questioning.

The main points in the whole episode in which the staff are voicing concern are:

That the resort is going miles in its way to protect the expatriate downplaying the offense while had the same action been attribute to a local staff he or she would have been behind bars in a matter of minutes.

That the management is highly abusive of the staff and this is not secret in Universal Group resorts. Standard greeting by manager of the resort to rank and file staff would consist of swearing or such street talk. Verbal abuse to staff is taken for granted in Kurumba and all Universal Group resorts. Talking politely or respectfully or courteously is obviously not Universal style.

That the resort is still relying on pulling strings in government to have things done their way irrespective of the legality of the actions. Here in this particular situation the resort has clearly hampered police work on an assault case which is nothing but obstruction of justice.

Universal Group resorts are not exactly new to controversies and it is not likely that their resorts would see much improvement in staff relationships as long as the owners of the resort fail to come out of the mindset of the abusive employer and embrace modern staff friendly management practices. The reason being that the cozy relationship that existed between the government and the Group was conducive for abuse and nothing seems to have changed.

Would you be appalled?

is there no limit to this?
is there no limit to this?

Maybe this is as bad as things can be or worse yet can there be. But is it not too much if the staff of a resort at the end of the year would have to pay for the resort 1500rf while going to their annual holiday just as a ‘mortgage’ against themselves for not showing up after the holiday? Which employer has done this or is there any depth of depravity employers would not go just to extort the money they so grudgingly gave to the staff for their hard work?
It is commonly asked by resort employers to the staff to treat the resort property as home and do their work with as much diligence and sincerity they would do for their own home. This is all good advice and common sense and most staff are only too happy to go the extra mile to be sincere in their work. But what is the result? At home most people do not go hungry because the fridge is locked or the kitchen is locked. In the resort (some resorts that is) it is almost impossible even to get drinking water after the meal time is over. At home most people are not locked inside prevented from going out say to enjoy a bit of fresh air in the porch. In some resorts it is strictly prohibited even to be seen outside the staff block after 2200 hours. This is just one of the few draconian measures resort managements put on place to harass their staff just because their mindset is still locked somewhere before the Bronze Age. But it has to be pointed out that all is not sad and gloomy in resorts in Maldives. While it is true that some resorts do even offer to their staff dedicated wifi , cable TV channels, shuttle transfers between resort and Male’ etc and varieties of menus to choose from at dinner in par with what is on menu for the guests, these resorts are few and far between. What has to happen among the resort employers of Maldives is to wake up to a realization that staffs are their staff not their competitors. That the staffs are the most profitable machinery they have on their business. That time has changed and that its a few years past the 21st century and they need to upgrade their collective backward thinking. That to have a good product you need to appreciate the people who make all the things happen. Etc etc.

And yes if one is doubt as to the identity of this so called employer who charges money from staff going on annual leave staff as security against them not showing up again– yes the employer is Kurumba Village. Despite their massive turnover in profits which is reflected on their astounding growth Universal Group of resorts has a larger share of justifiable criticisms against it than the rest. One another example of how averse this employer is to the rule of law is that despite the labor law being explicit that any service charge collected must be distributed 99% or totally, the resort has failed to acknowledge this. While most new comer resorts to Maldives are capable of substantial amounts as service charge KV the so called pioneer of Maldives tourism is lagging far behind. (Last month 900mrf).

Kurumba Village “loyalty” bribe

kvOn every 5th of the month the employees in Kurumba Village receives a sealed envelope containing money the amount of which is different for different people. The only people who are excluded from this generosity are the executives. This new found generosity to KV staff by their employer is understood to be nothing but bribery says critics who point out that since the labor law came to effect nothing substantial has changed in Kurumba and nothing is likely to change. The envelope labeled “loyalty” is effectively bribing staff not to strike or demand their rights which is perfectly understandable from some employers who would find it difficult to be honest and upright.
The much overused marketing catch line for Kurumba Village from times immemorial has been to allude to the first great days of tourism in Maldives and how Kurumba village was the first and the best. Nothing could be farther from truth. For a start the first days of tourism in Maldives were anything but great. The first group of tourist were in fact a band of nature terrorists who came to Maldives armed complete with angler’s gear including fish guns (which are banned in Maldives since) and looking for a place to strip and look like zombies. If being first was an honor than indeed Kurumba is entitled to that but there are lots of positive points to Kurumba as well.
Strictly from the point of view of the average local resort worker Kurumba is a transit hotel. It’s someplace the guests as well as staff move to other places with memories and experiences respectfully. The clientele of Kurumba would mostly be the toughest and most demanding of the bunch hence resoluteness and good service to the guests is only asked and given. Most of the guests who would have spent time in Kurumba would have wholeheartedly recommend Kurumba to their friends and kudos for Kurumba for that. One other positive point for Kurumba is its proximity to Male’ and the ease of transfer to and from Male’ to the island. This is the reason why there are employees in Kurumba who have toiled 10 to 18 years and still find Kurumba a good place to work for despite all that is wrong with Kurumba.
The cons of being a Kurumba employee are as many as the pros are few. For a start the abusive behavior of the management towards rank and file staff is famous in its notoriety. The reason for this is the influence and power the Kolige clan wielded in the former government and to a large extent is still the case. They are simply untouchable and beyond reproach or criticism. There is no question of dialogue or discourse or discussions. The orders come from above and no dissent or even a rational objection is tolerated. Bereft of any recourse to justice, staff toiled in these islands of Universal Group in the truest sense of a transit hotel.
Then there is the case of differentiation of meals and accommodation and its all but public knowledge that staff accommodation blocks for “room boys” and “waiters” were often referred as animal dens such as “bakari koshi” or “himaaru koshi”. Although not officially sanctioned these names are known to staff and the management unrepentantly uses these phrases in daily discourse. Even as such amenities as hot water and air conditioned rooms for staff became standard facilities for staff everywhere in resorts in Maldives, Kurumba remained the exception until very recently. In short Kurumba village despite its vainglorious history is one of the best and worst hotels to work for in Maldives. Best if the position held by the employee is a managerial position. Worst if the position of the employee is a low semi skilled job. What is at fault is not the resort but the mindset of the management that runs it.

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.

When all the resorts follow the labor law to the letter and spirit…

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What would happen if the this were to happen? Would indeed this happen and who would benefit most? These are all important questions easier to be asked than to be answered as is the case with most questions that are answerable. As for the fact that the law is binding and compliance is required is a mere statement on paper. What is supposed to happen is for the employers to find fault with the law (as had already happened) and find ways to water down the law to suit them. This is nothing new. Rule of law is applicable to the masses. To the elites same law would have to be customized to suit their needs. Hence MATI with its loyal fat business clientèle has summoned their fat legal team and are said to be discussing changes to labor law. One should not be too much surprised if they have it their way because there is very little awareness in the public about how serious the implications of these issues will be.

In the short term all resort managements will do their part in conforming to labor law provisions some with obvious signs of feet dragging while others taking things in their stride. Those resorts who would not find much difficulty implementing the law requirements would mostly be the big already reputed to be good to staff resorts such as W, Four Seasons, Banyan Tree etc. What that is easier for these resorts to adjust is the portion of service charge to staff of which they were distributing a bigger percentage to staff than the other resorts which are renown for notoriety to staff such as Universal group resorts and Villa and Champa group resorts. These resorts would have to find ways to adjust their accounts to where service charge was involved as service charge is to be wholly distributed staff by law.

As for the other requirements such as the 48 hour week all the talk that was then prevalent is now reversed by a turn of 180 degrees. The industry bosses had predicted that the resorts would have to take on additional staff to comply with time restrictions of the law which at present seems not to be the case. In fact most Human Resources departments in resorts are now compiling lists of redundant staff citing compliance to labor law requires them to cut cost which means job cuts .

Whatever will be will be and the coming weeks and months will show where the industry heading. In the bigger picture the prospects doesn’t seem to be all sad and gloomy as compliance to labor laws will inevitably force some unwilling hands of the tourism industry from the economic slavery they have been subjecting our fellow resort workers for some long long time.

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!