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.


Anonymous said...

It's shocking to see how a government suppressed labor rights for so long. even more shocking is how the person played a lead role in that suppression went on to become the chairman of a human rights body.

vaaf said...

"This was mainly to enable the country to continue denying the right of worship to expatriate workers."

This is interesting, so does this mean expats can setup private places of worship.

Remember the very recent Hindu shrine that was dismantled.

Anonymous said...

So what then happens to those that went to jail as soon as they returned to Maldives? What about their rights? Who is responsible for their denied freedom and imprisonment? Are we to let the perpetrators of such acts escape? What sort of compensation package do we have for these seamen?

I agree to your view on why Maldives did not join ILO at the early stages because it would be detremental to the employment of Maldivian sailors. Could this not be a pretext of something much latent and cruel ulterior motive of those at forefront of opposing the ILO convention i.e. the agencies who supplied the Maldivian sailors.

I think these barons (the agencies and government officials) were getting under the table benefits from various shipping lines who want to prevent the Maldivian sailors from claiming their rightful compensation and thus save hundreds of thousands, if not millions dollars in cost.

This is highly speculative, of course, but there could be an element of truth given the notorious corruption allegations that ensues the former regime.


Anonymous said...

Maverick, it's very likely that some agencies had a hand in the atrocities against seamen. Certainly MSL had a hand in it. it was actually the powerful boss of MSL who influenced government to to be so harsh.

Anonymous said...

That was a different age and time. Now it's time to forget everything and join ILO.

Abdullah Waheed's Blog said...

@ Maverick, your theory that recruiting agencies were behind government's persecution of seamen who sued shipping lines is quite plausible. they certanly had a motive. but to be honest i have no evidence of such a colusion. it needs to be investigated.

Anonymous said...

The issue raised, could very well be THE reason why Maldives did not join ILO.

Having worked over 20 years in the maritime industry of which 15 years were at sea, I have some understanding of how the system worked.

1 - On the issue of seamen being arrested, yes they were and some of the "recruiters" can be seen in the Majlis and senior Government posts today. The stand of the Government was simple, that we (seamen) went against a declaration we signed. All Maldivians were made a sign a declaration that we would not approach any Organisation (namely ITF, the body of ILO which deals with transporation workers) to demand a higher wage then was agreed to.

2 - The recruiting companies did have a part in the arrests. They provided the information of arrivals to the Government and details of payments. They did so because each Company was making money per crew recruited from Owners in addition to the money paid by the crew in order to get a job !

The scenario has changed. Regardless of wages, employment of Maldivian seamen are getting low year by year, not beacuse of wages, but due to mandatory training requirements of IMO. While there will be an effect to seamen, it will be minimal, and the trained seamen will get a chance to earn more.