The Hulhulé Island Hotel has suspended six Maldivian employees after its local workforce protested against the suspension of a local staff and alleged discrimination between local and foreign staff.
The suspension came after more than 60 Maldivian staff signed a petition on February 7 demanding that the management lifts the suspension of Assad Ali, a staff member accused of leaving work without permission during duty hours.
The petition also asked for the “immediate withdrawal of the allegations” against Assad and called for “more cooperative support and fairness” from the HIH management.
It also asked the management not to “take this act personal” and not to take “action or threat” against those who signed the petition.
The row over Assad’s suspension then descended into a protest over alleged discrimination between foreigners and locals, staff who spoke to the Maldives Independent said.
The notice given to the six suspended employees stated that they staged “an unlawful assembly” inside hotel premises, but the workers said they had only gathered at a meeting hall at the request of the senior management. “It was simply a meeting and nothing more than that. But the management called the police to the hotel after misleading them about what was going on,” an employee said.
The constitution guarantees the right to demonstrate without prior permission as well as the right “to stop work and to strike in order to protest”. But the 2013 Freedom of Assembly Act prohibits protests at tourist resorts and hotels.
The suspensions handed down to the six local staff ranged from three to seven days and have since been extended for some employees.
The hotel’s management declined to respond despite repeated queries. Safthar Ali Khan, HIH’s human resources manager, said he is unauthorised to speak to the press.
General Manager Uthkash Faujar said he is currently overseas and declined to comment.
A suspended employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity said: “I was told that I can resume my job once I sign a statement and if I confess that I was amongst the employees who took part in the strike.”
“But we did not strike or protest. It was just a meeting. Hotel services were not disrupted,” he insisted.
At the time, local media reported the gathering as a protest.
But the Maldivian employees repeatedly insisted that the meeting did not disrupt the hotel’s services or affect guests.
The HIH is the only hotel located on the same island as the Velana International Airport, a 10-minute boat ride from the capital city. The state-owned Maldives Airports Company Ltd holds a 65 percent majority stake in the hotel and the Singapore Airlines Terminal Services owns 35 percent.
MACL spokesman Hassan Areef said the HIH’s management is independent of the airport company.
An unnamed official told newspaper Mihaaru on February 8 that the HIH management has met most of the workers’ demands, including a travel allowance, issuing US$5000 per year to each staff at the official bank rate and paying salaries before the 29th day of each month.
According to figures provided by senior staff, the HIH employs 90 Maldivians and 106 expatriates. The room divisions manager, Ali Shakir, is the only Maldivian working at the management level.
Several local employees who spoke to the Maldives Independent complained that foreign employees are paid in US dollars and offered better contracts, whilst Maldivians are generally treated as “second class” employees.
“For example, if they hired a Maldivian room boy with years of experience, they will list him as a trainee and give low wages. However, if a foreigner is hired for the same position he will be given a full contract with normal wages,” a senior employee said on the condition of anonymity.
The management also seeks to promptly meet “every demand” made by foreign staff.
“When the remittance tax was introduced the hotel raised salaries of foreign employees to fill the gap,” another employee said.
Mauroof Zakir, general secretary of the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives, meanwhile lauded the efforts of the HIH’s Maldivian employees “to demand fair treatment and rights”.
Local staff at the airport hotel are paid less compared to other tourist establishments, he said, stressing that Maldivian staff should comprise a majority of the HIH workforce.
“We feel the demands of Maldivian employees such as requesting salaries in US dollars are valid. They have the right from the constitution to strike if they want to and we support it,” he said.