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Construction magnate’s inclusion on minimum wage board sparks backlash

Janah denied allegations of not paying workers.



The appointment of a construction magnate to an advisory board on setting a minimum wage has drawn outrage and criticism over alleged non-payment of wages.

In a first step towards fulfilling a campaign pledge, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih instituted the Salaries and Wages Advisory Board on Labour Day last week “to advise on a minimum wage after carrying out broad consultations and research,” Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail announced.

The five-member board includes a government appointee and two representatives each from industry and worker’s associations.

The inclusion of Mohamed Ali Janah, former president of the influential lobbying group Maldives Association of Construction Industry, prompted allegations from several people on social media over unpaid salaries from his hotel and resort construction company.

Janah’s company is also a partner in Ithaafushi Investments, a resort operator that stirred controversy over its treatment of expatriates after a video went viral last October showing hundreds of workers ferried on a barge during rough weather.

In the face of the outcry last week, Janah flatly denied the non-payment allegations. “God would know” that none of the company’s 5,000 employees were owed unpaid wages, he told local media.

Responding to criticism and calls for Janah’s removal, Economic Minister Fayyaz meanwhile stressed that he was nominated by the construction industry association.

“Those nominated by the Employers are not there to represent employees but Employers. Those nominated by Employees Associations are to represent the employees. Both are stakeholders and it’s a forum to compromise and agree on a fair wage,” he tweeted.

Chaired by Mariyam Khalida as the government’s representative, other members are Ibrahim Nooradeen, a board member of the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Ltd, Ali Adam, executive secretary of the Maldives Association of Human Resources Professionals, and Mauroof Zakir from the Tourism Employment Association of Maldives.

After the board was formed, opposition MP Ahmed Nihan suggested that MVR9,000 (US$584) should be the minimum wage.

“The per capita income of Maldives is US$9000. So MVR300 per day is a good figure. A rufiyaa for every dollar,” the outgoing majority leader tweeted.

But Mauroof Zakir, who represents the tourism workers association on the advisory board, told Raajje TV that MVR6,000 (US$389) a month was a “sufficient” amount.

“I think that’s a good figure. We are trying to introduce a minimum wage for the first time in Maldives. That means when it’s introduced there shouldn’t be any worker in the country earning less than MVR6,000. That would be a big step, a big change,” he said.

“Proposing a big number abruptly and being unable to meet that or causing a loss to the economy would be more dangerous.”

Following Mauroof’s remarks, TEAM clarified that its demand for a monthly minimum wage of US$600 for resort workers remains unchanged.

On Wednesday, TEAM meanwhile organised a May Day march in Malé in collaboration with the newly formed Maldives Labour and Socialist Democratic Party and leftwing group Navaanavi. 

Walking across the capital’s main thoroughfare, the protesters called for a minimum wage, service charges for resort workers, and comprehensive legislation to cover occupational health and safety, industrial relations and the right to form trade unions to introduce collective bargaining.