When the Employment Act came into force on 10 July this year – 45 days after ratification – it created havoc in workplaces across the country. Government budgets ran out of money and supervisors were overwhelmed with sick leave notices. This lead some people to believe the Act is unsuited for the Maldives, especially when applied to tourist resorts, industrial sites and shift duty stations. Others however pointed out that the 48-hour work week stipulated in the Act is the norm in the European Union, and if that norm can be implemented in hotels and factories in EU, there should be no reason it cannot be applied in the Maldives.
At first tourist resorts were not included in the Act, but were later included following agitation by resort employees spearheaded by TEAM. Now resort managements are coming under increasing pressure to implement the provisions of the Act fully. But many people –not just resort owners –believe there are serious controversies in the Act, particularly when implemented overnight without sufficient preparation in resorts and industrial sites.
Some people believe the employment law was basically drafted with the working conditions of civil servants (government office staff) in mind. Apart from the budget shortage (which could have been avoided if implementation was delayed till January) the law can be applied to civil servants with no major problems, they believe. The question is, were the working arrangements in tourist resorts and shift duty stations studied sufficiently before the law was implemented?
Are you shocked to learn that you will need to employ 7 people to keep just one person on duty in a 3 shift duty system, if each employee avails all the rights stipulated in the Law –maximum working hours, rest days, sick leave and holidays? If one is shocked by this statistic one needs to study the law carefully. Employees of course deserve all these rights and more. However, one must also realize that tourist resorts have been operating under various systems of employment for decades. Thus, there is an existing baseline. Shifting from this baseline to the level required by the law would need careful planning.
Tourism, together with fish processing plants, forms the back bone of the economy. We need to make sure sufficient and efficient labor is available for these growing sectors of our economy. A competitive labor market is absolutely essential to ensure that we attract foreign investment for the tourist industry. While the human rights record of China is far from ideal, there may be a few things we can learn from their experience in managing their labor force and succeeding in producing committed workers.
[This article is based on ideas submitted by Mohamed Shiham, an employee of a 5 star resort in the Maldives.]