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Labour Relations Authority raises concern over ‘unlawful’ job dismissals, unpaid leave, pay cuts

Rae Munavvar
31 March 2020, MVT 16:36
Less than three months later, economies across the world are feeling the effects of nationwide lockdowns and economic uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although revenue is expected to suffer in every sector, the government is apparently working hard to ensure unemployment rates are minimally affected. PHOTO: STOCK FILES / MIHAARU
Rae Munavvar
31 March 2020, MVT 16:36

Labour Relations Authority (LRA) released a statement on Sunday, declaring a number of employers acting in violation of the employment law as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent fears over the economic downfall, were brought to its attention.

The document released by the authority referenced employees across the country currently being forced under duress, to take unpaid leave or facing immediate terminations and wage alterations.

Reiterating the message disseminated earlier by the Ministry of Economic Development, LRA stated that although numerous loans and stimulus packages were being offered to businesses in decline, the government would prioritise those that respect the rights of their employees and are acting in accordance with the law.

LRA advised all employers to communicate with the authority prior to making any changes to the employment status of their staff, at this time.

Urging employees to report any violation of their employment terms to the authority, LRA stated that a completed sheet (obtained from https://lra.gov.mv/downloads labelled Employment Status Change Information Sheet), must be sent to info@lra.gov.mv along with any additional details pertaining to the issue.

According to the employment watchdog, complaints about changes made after March 1 must be sent through before April 15.

However, LRA clarified that the above procedure applies to all future complaints as well, adding that persons requiring further information can either place a call to +960 7208282 or send an email with their query.

Meanwhile, on Monday, at the daily press conference held at Dharubaaruge convention centre, The Edition posed a question on whether the government had made projections on the possible rise of unemployment in the wake of the pandemic, and if there was any move to introduce targeted welfare schemes such as Singapore's Covid-19 support grant, US's COVID-19 Unemployment Insurance or EU's Pandemic Welfare Package, to protect the average Maldivian worker.

In response, President's Office's Communications Undersecretary Mabrouq Abdul Azeez stated that the Maldives could not be compared with other countries, and suggested that state-provided services currently in place such as the national health insurance scheme 'Asandha', National Social Protection Agency, along with government-subsidized electricity and water, and the stimulus package for businesses introduced as relief in response to CVOID-19 were sufficient for now. He did not offer any information on the aforementioned projections.

On March 21, Economic Ministry on Saturday urged individuals to call out employers terminating or deducting salaries amid the COVID-19 pandemic and report their situation using the reporting module on their online platform www.jobcenter.mv

Whilst addressing the press on Sunday, Mabrouq revealed that information collected from www.jobcenter.mv would be utilised to formulate targeted programmes for individuals that lose jobs amid the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.

Although he further urged people in such situations to lodge complaints at the portal, neither Mabrouq nor the government has yet confirmed a time frame within which such issues would be addressed or acted on.

By March 26, the government already reported that a total of 104 complaints were filed to the Economic Ministry's portal, including that of terminations, no-pay leaves, pay cuts, allowance cuts, half-payments, as well as temporary employment suspensions.

Top lawyers in the country speaking to The Edition, encouraged all employees facing redundancy to take note of the circumstances and reasoning under which they are terminated. Additionally, they advised employees, both local and expatriate, not to hesitate in approaching the Employment Tribunal should they feel like they have been wronged, particularly in the case of redundancy, where certain conditions must be met and procedures undertaken.

Maldives’ heavily tourism reliant economy continues to face severe repercussions due to travel restrictions imposed over the COVID-19 outbreak.

The tourism industry, accounting for over 70 percent of the GDP, came to a halt after the government stopped issuing on-arrival visas on March 27. As a result, it is estimated that the country will face a shortfall of approximately USD 450 million (MVR 6.9 billion) in foreign currency.

In a bid to counteract the financial impact on the local economy, the government introduced stimulus packages amounting to MVR 2.5 billion, intended to prevent the closure of local businesses and the loss of jobs.

Furthermore, as part of the state's economic recovery plan, Bank of Maldives (BML) will push back its loan repayment period by six months, along with a 20 percent discount on repayment amount, while Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC) and SME Development Finance Corporation (SDFC) will extend loan repayments by six months.

Maldives now has 18 confirmed and five active cases of COVID-19, with a total of 13 recoveries. Despite the three confirmed cases of Maldivians, no local to local transmissions are recorded.

The World Health Organization has classified the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The novel coronavirus has infected over 785, 800 people and claimed over 37,800 lives around the world. However, out of those infected, more than 165, 000 people have recovered.

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