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Strikes and hikes as porters down tools

Porters are angry about new rules that ban transporting and unloading merchandise from warehouses and shops during the day in Malé.



Porters are striking against new rules on transporting merchandise that came into effect Sunday, as the capital’s businesses feared a hike in market prices.

The rules ban transporting and unloading merchandise from warehouses and shops during the day in Malé in a bid to ease congestion in the densely packed city.

Goods must now be carried and unloaded from vans, lorries or pickups between 6 pm and 6 am, the transport authority announced Friday, citing difficulties caused due to jammed roads.

An exception was made for cooking gas delivery, which will be allowed between 8:30 am and 11 am. But the goods to be transported to atolls must be loaded onto boats during the day.

A porter, who talked to the Maldives Independent on condition of anonymity, said they were demanding the new rules to be scrapped.

“Do they expect us to work 24-hours everyday? We, too, want to be able to get a good night’s sleep and spend time with our families,” he said.

“This change means our income will also be lower. We will be forced to work during the night if we want to earn more.”

Porters who usually start work at 8 am had gathered at their assembly hall near Maldives Ports Limited on Sunday morning. They refused to work unless the rules were changed.

The new rules previously restricted the goods transport hours to 10 pm and 6 am, but were revised following complaints from businesses.

A group of local businessmen met with Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed to share their concerns on Thursday. He said the rules were changed to control traffic and guaranteed the government would work to address concerns.

But one businessman told local newspaper Mihaaru that “concerns had not been resolved.”

Another trader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “porters and drivers are ready to demand higher wages to work at night.”

“Businesses with their own carriers and vehicles may get through this. But most businesses that rely on rented vehicles and hired porters will face a loss.”

Porters previously cost MVR 2,500 per day but the new rules mean this figure will rise to MVR 5,000 and the cost for lorry drivers will increase from MVR420 to MVR800, according to some businessmen.

“This means market prices will rapidly inflate and there is nothing we can do about it, unless the rules are changed,” a businessman from Galolhu district said.

The island of Malé measures just 2.2 square miles but houses nearly 40 percent of the country’s 340,000-strong population.

Roads are frequently blocked when vehicles park outside shops or warehouses to unload goods, such as bottled water or construction materials.

Relatively low traffic was seen in the streets Sunday because of the new unloading rules.

Although the government believes that controlling the goods’ transport hours can ease traffic in the capital, businesses said an alternative solution must be found.

“A thoroughly planned policy must be formed. A sudden change like this can never bring positive results,” the businessman from Galolhu said.

Nobody from the transport authority or economic ministry was available for comment at the time of going to press.

Industrial action is uncommon in the Maldives, but port workers, tourism employees and civil servants have previously staged successful strikes.

Photo: Mihaaru