President Abdulla Yameen has overhauled the seven-member employment tribunal, replacing its president and vice president and appointing two new members to the panel in the last month.
The president and vice president of the tribunal, which has received praise from lawyers and unions for protecting worker’s rights, were sacked in June and replaced by members, Faaiz Rashad and Ismail Ahmed in July.
Faiz had been appointed to the panel in 2015 and Ismail in 2014.
On Sunday, Yameen appointed Adam Zalif and Mariyam Nishfa to the two vacancies. Zalif is the younger brother of Jumhooree Party MP Ilham Ahmed.
The president’s office did not specify the reasons for the changes.
The landmark Employment Act grants the president the authority to appoint members for five-year terms, but says members can only be removed if they declare bankruptcy, or are incapable of performing their duties or found to have contravened their oaths.
Yameen had appointed six new members to the tribunal in 2014, two in 2015 and two this year.
Mauroof Zakir, the secretary general of Tourism Employment Association of Maldives, a resort workers union, said Yameen was misusing his authority to influence the tribunal’s rulings.
Some of the new members sit on the boards of state-owned enterprises, some of which have sacked several opposition supporters for attending opposition rallies, he alleged.
“We have filed scores of cases with the tribunal. Of late, we have noticed that even if rulings are issued in the employee’s favour, the employer would be asked to compensate instead of reinstating the employee.
“If someone gets fired for exercising a constitutionally guaranteed right like freedom of assembly, the priority should be to give them back their job, not a settlement. The Employment Act clearly states this.”
The government, the largest employer in the Maldives, has a history of making unfair dismissals, mainly for participation in political activities.
Earlier this month, the tribunal ordered the Prosecutor General’s Office to compensate a former public prosecutor for unfair dismissal. An employee at the state utility company, dismissed after he took part in anti-government protest last May, was also ordered to be compensated instead of being reinstated.
The defence ministry was also ordered in December last year to reinstate eight aviation security officers who were sacked that May.
The government had cited loss of confidence in dismissing the eight officers, but the tribunal ruled they were dismissed without due process and that the government was unable to prove that they posed a threat to national security.
The tribunal’s rulings, however, are rarely enforced.
Imthiyaz Fahmy, a spokesman for the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, said the changes were surprising as public confidence in the tribunal was high.
“We are still looking into what actually happened. We would like to note that there are very few complaints about the tribunal, as their decisions have so far been fair. People seem to have confidence in the tribunal, unlike the courts in the Maldives.”
He added: “Yameen will not like it if any institution in the Maldives is free of political influence, which could be why he chose to sack them.”
The president’s office was not responding to calls for comment.
Additional writing and reporting by Shafaa Hameed