Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Why Maldives was not in ILO
Till yesterday, when People’s Majlis resolved that Maldives could join International Labor Organization (ILO), it had the dubious distinction of being on a very short list of countries refusing to join the organization, a list that was headed by North Korea. The long delay in joining ILO had historic reasons that date back to the late 70s and early 80s, when a large number of Maldivians were employed as seamen in foreign shipping lines.
People from those days could perhaps recall many incidents of returning seamen going to jail straight from the airport, though not many would have understood why. At the bottom of the mystery was the reason why foreign lines preferred Maldivian sailors: they could make Maldivians work for a pittance, as they were not protected by any local or international laws. As such, Maldivian sailors were paid very low wages compared to the minimum wages in Western countries. When ships called at US and EU ports, lawyers representing labor unions helped the Maldivians file cases against the shipping lines and get large amounts of money as compensation.
Those days the government took a hard-line against those who filed such cases. Perhaps officials felt they were detrimental to the continued employment of Maldivians as sailors. This is not the place or time to discuss whether that policy was right or wrong. The issue is raised here to give background information on why Maldives was not an ILO member all these days.
Some interesting points:
There were a couple of interesting points during the Majlis debate. One was the assurance that joining ILO would not automatically impose any obligations on Maldives. This assurance betrays lack of understanding of how international legal instruments work. They follow a familiar pattern. First, countries are made to accept the parent convention. This would then be used as the thin edge of the wedge to pry open sufficient space to push in ‘optional protocols.’ Soon, the country would be overwhelmed by implementation and reporting obligations.
The other interesting point was the reservations Maldives made while deciding to join ILO. This was mainly to enable the country to continue denying the right of worship to expatriate workers.