Thirteen Fired After 200 Strike At One and Only Reethi Rah

Sunday, 30 November 2008 07:45

Minivan News

Five-star luxury resort One and Only Reethi Rah has fired thirteen of its staff following a mass strike over working conditions that began Friday morning, according to employees.

The dismissed staff includes Ahmed Easa, President of Tourism Employees Association Maldives, a new body that has been at the forefront of pushing for the implementation of labour rights for resort workers.

More than 200 employees began the strike on Friday, erecting and filling a marquee at 6.00am in what they have described as a peaceful protest.

By this evening, thirteen of them were fired, with staff saying they were no longer needed.

Resort managers have refused to comment, but a statement released mid-strike said that it was temporarily reducing staff due to the labour law, but that “our interests are in support of all employees”.

Strike

This evening, a list of the 13 dismissed staff members was read out in front of all of those involved in the strike.

Speaking to Minivan News, Easa, who was working in the food and beverage sector before he was fired, said that he felt as if basic rights were a “big failure” in the Maldives.

“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,” he said.

“The former government and this government so far have both failed to protect our rights,” he added.

TEAM Vice-President and senior head waiter Mauroof Zakir was also sacked. He said he believed he was being dismissed because he had campaigned for employment rights.

“I am always fighting for our labour rights,” he said. “I am one of the people who has always raised my voice.”

All of those dismissed have been told to vacate the resort by the end of the night but have refused to do so. “I will stay here until I get an order from the court,” said Zakir.

“They have no right to terminate me. According to the new law, they have to give us two weeks notice and an explanation.”

An official statement by the resort reads, “Recent labour laws imposed in the Republic of the Maldives have raised concerns amongst our team and has resulted in a temporary reduction in our staffing levels".

“Be assured that our interests are in support of all employees and that close communication will continue until we have amicably resolved the matter,” it states.

In 2007, the resort was voted number one in the world by Conde Nast Traveller magazine's UK readers.

Demands

In the run up to the strike, all but eight of the hotel’s Maldivian staff gave the management seven days to meet their demands.

Their primary request was for training manager Ashleigh Christie to be transferred to another of the global chain’s hotels.

“Our main demand is that the training manager leaves the island,” said Easa. “Last night 180 people individually wrote letters outlining why they wanted her to leave,” he said.

“We don’t want her fired. We just want her transferred because we think she is one of the main reasons for the discrimination here,” he added.

Many of the workers blame Christie for the discrimination that they allege takes place between local and expatriate staff. This includes preferential treatment and a lack of opportunities for Maldivians to reach more senior positions.

“There is a big difference between the foreign and local staff both in terms of salaries but also in terms of promotions,” says Easa.

“They are doing jobs that Maldivians can do and even though the locals work very hard it is difficult for them to get promoted,” he adds.

The petition handed over to management last Saturday also included the implementation of the Employment Act, and improved staff accommodation, ferry services, employer-employee relations, training opportunities.

Employees also sought a monthly meeting with employers to talk about their grievances.

Commenting on the ferry service and cramped living quarters, Abdulla Shameel, who has worked for the hotel as a butler for past 8 months, said: “The capacity of the ferry is nowhere near enough for the 680 staff that work here and the accommodation is bad.

There are six people in a room and we share one toilet. "Even in jail I think there are five people sharing a room. There are lots of things which make me so mad.

“I told the training manager I have to be in a queue for one hour to go home. She told me that we are going to have another ferry and the accommodation will be better but nothing has happened and now they are going to reduce the number of ferries from three to two.”

Another worker, villa host Hassan Sabree told Minivan News that he felt overworked and undervalued.

Although only contractually obliged to look after five villas, Sabree said that he is in charge of a minimum of seven villas at a time. After complaining to the management, he was told that this was hotel policy.

“It will impact our resort but this isn’t something that we want. We are just fighting for our rights. All they need to do is talk to us,” said Sabree.

Strike

The strike is one of many that have been held over the past month at resorts throughout the Maldives to lobby hotels to enforce the recent Employment Act.

The Act aims to protect workers’ rights by introducing provisos such as a minimum wage, maximum working hours and unfair dismissal.

For Easa, going on strike has proven to be the only successful avenue available to workers to campaign for their rights.

“Problems from other resorts such as Cinnamon and Manafaru have been solved through protests.

“There’s no doubt about it that going on strike is the best way to solve this problem.

“We have tried to talk to the government and businesses…We just don’t have any other option.”

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