President Abdulla Yameen issued last night a stern warning to staff at the finance ministry who went on strike over impending mass job cuts: “If you go on strike without working, salary deductions will be made, and other things will also happen.”
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the ‘Maldives Expo 2015’ handicraft exhibition, Yameen assured the civil servants that they will not be fired but transferred to other ministries.
He urged the staff to engage with the government in lieu of protesting.
The finance ministry staff went on strike on Tuesday – only the second by civil servants in recent history – after the president’s office ordered the dismissal of more than 70 employees.
The ministry’s highest-ranking civil servant, Ismail Ali Manik, resigned last week when he was ordered to sack the staff. The government later said that “technical staff” will be transferred to better utilise their skills and expertise.
In his speech last night, Yameen urged the finance ministry staff to continue working until they are “slotted in” at other ministries. The government values the staff and recognises their hard work, he said.
“They don’t have to protest for their jobs. They will remain in government jobs. But no government employee should tell me, ‘I will work at this office.’ That’s not something they can say. The government will decide that based on the level of skill and training. It’s not the World Bank that will decide it,” he said.
Yameen said he does not accept that particular staff members must remain at the finance ministry due to obligations to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
“So it would be much better than this to engage with the government constructively. It is not good to protest over everything and choose the hardest path to secure rights. I said yesterday, too, that none of them will be left behind,” he said.
But the protesting staff said they had no choice but to strike after discussions with the Civil Service Commission ended without a resolution.
A finance ministry staff who wished to remain anonymous criticised the president’s remarks, noting that the staff have a constitutional right to strike “to fight for our rights.”
“Our jobs and livelihoods are at stake,” the employee said.
After halting work yesterday, 136 staff members of the ministry signed a petition to the Civil Service Commission, demanding a comprehensive and transparent human resource audit before making the job cuts. The petition also asked the CSC to clarify its plans on the dismissals.
Speaking at a CSC event earlier this week, Yameen also urged the commission to conduct a comprehensive human resource and performance audit of the “overstaffed” civil service.
A large portion of the annual state budget is spent on paying salaries and allowances for more than 20,000 civil servants. Successive governments have spoken of the need for rightsizing the public sector to rein in a ballooning budget deficit.
Yameen’s administration has meanwhile been criticised over the high number of political appointees. There are some 682 political appointees in the executive branch.