One&Only Reethi Rah strike cracked down by Government of Maldives

Sunday, 30 November 2008 20:13

As reported on Maverick

In a carefully orchestrated plan to stifle dissent and silence the growing voices of the tourism workers in the Maldives, the government cracked down on the leaders of Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) on Sunday. In a predawn raid at One&Only Reethi Rah resort in Male’ Atoll, where a strike was going on since Friday, members of STAR Team from Special Operations Division of Maldives Police Service used excessive force while arresting 13 strikers.

Among those arrested is Ahmed Easa, the President of TEAM. Ahmed Mihad, Vice President of TEAM, told Jazeera Daily that Easa is injured from the police assault. Mihad alleges police used pepper spray and excessive force during the raid. He said several workers were hurt including female employees. “It looks like the police are unaware of the change in government,” Mihad told Jazeera Daily.

Statements from the police contradict these allegations. The state-owned Television Maldives reported, referring to police sources, that excessive force was not used. Rumours that the strikers were damaging property at the resort are also being spread. However, Mihad said the strikers were peaceful during the strike.

More than 200 workers from One&Only Reethi Rah started the strike on Friday morning calling for improvements in working conditions. Minivan News reported that 13 of them were fired by Saturday evening, including the head of TEAM, Easa. Mauroof Zakir, a Vice President of TEAM, who also worked at the same resort, was among the 13 workers who were sacked.

“We have been working on these islands like slaves but the reason that our rights aren’t implemented is because parliament is run by rich businessmen,” Easa told Minivan News on Saturday. “The former government and this government so far have both failed to protect our rights,” he added.

The 13 employees who were fired refused to leave the island saying that under the new labour law they cannot be fired without two weeks notice and an explanation for terminating employment. Zakir told Minivan News he will stay on the island till he receives a court order and added that he believed he was fired because of his campaigns for workers’ rights.

It appears that the resort management asked the police to move in and physically remove the 13 strikers who were fired.

Even though there is no adequate legal framework for workers’ unions, TEAM has been functioning as a de facto union and has been at the forefront of demanding rights for workers in the tourism sector. When the Employment Act was ratified in May it exempted the tourism employees from receiving basic rights under it, prompting TEAM to start a long campaign to include the tourism workers in the Employment Act. They were successful in the campaign but TEAM still complains several resorts are not enforcing the Employment Act. Recent strikes in some tourist resorts resulted in the dismissal of striking employees despite the constitution that was ratified in August guaranteeing the right to strike.

Critics have accused the new government sworn in on November 11, as being too cozy with business interests. The government is a coalition made up of several political factions which are either formed by business tycoons or backed by tycoons. The home minister Gasim Ibrahim is one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country and the owner of Villa Resorts. He was the presidential candidate from the Republican Party in the first round of the recent election. Ahmed Sawad, the tourism minister, also from Republican Party and the running mate of Gasim during the presidential election, is believed to be a proxy of Gasim and other resort owners. The police are also accountable to the home minister. Haveeru reports that the police raided One&Only Reethi Rah following the instructions of home minister Gasim Ibrahim.

Sunday’s incident at One&Only Reethi Rah confirms that the brutal tactics of the STAR Team have not changed despite a change of government. The STAR Team was known for their brutal control of anti-government protests when the former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was in power. Adam Zahir, the notorious police commissioner under Gayoom, was retired by the new government recently. However, top brass in the police force, who have been accused of corruption and torture, remains in control, and the current police commissioner Ahmed Faseeh is no exception.

Dissidents in Maldives are already fearful of the direction the new government has taken. Last week the government submitted a Bill to the Parliament proposing to extend the lease period of tourist resorts to 50 years in a move that will benefit the wealthy tourism tycoons. It is expected that the bill will pass easily in the parliament which is dominated by the tycoons.

Reethi Rah resort is owned by the family of Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, the former atolls minister, parliament member for Baa Atoll, and deputy leader of Dhivehi Raiyithunge Party (DRP). He was the running mate of ex-president Gayoom in the October election. The resort is managed by the international resort and casino operator Kerzner International under its luxury brand One&Only Resorts. Conde Nast Traveller magazine’s UK readers voted the resort as number one in the world in 2007. Despite close connections between the resort management and the regime of ex-president Gayoom, the resort employees were always proactive in voicing dissent. The employees had established a cell of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the resort and were active in campaigning for MDP in the October election. It is no surprise that several leaders of employees’ association TEAM worked at the same resort. TEAM endorsed presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed of MDP in the election.

By unleashing the brutal STAR Team on the resort, the government of Nasheed has stabbed once loyal supporters in the back. The government has also given a strong signal that the corporate interests of the tycoons are far important than upholding workers’ rights in the tourism industry of Maldives.


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