Tourism Employees Association Maldives (TEAM) confirmed receiving reports of several resort workers being forced to sign no-pay leave contracts for a three-month period, with resorts being scheduled to shut down across the country, over travel restrictions brought in wake of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.
According to reports from local media Mihaaru, certain resort management companies did not provide employees with clear instructions regarding the closure of the resort up until Tuesday, leaving staff members suddenly forced to sign contracts stating that they were willingly accepting no-pay leave.
"We did not raise concerns over fears of losing our jobs. We were hoping for the best. However, the resort is now saying we have no option but to go on no-pay leave", a resort staff told Mihaaru anonymously.
Mohamed Hussain, working in a resort in Kaafu Atoll, said that all the employees at the resort are currently in a state of panic after the management confirmed that they will lose their income for three consecutive months.
For the majority of resort workers, there is no option but to relocate to their home islands after the Health Protection Agency (HPA) finally permits them to leave their workplace. They no longer possess the financial means to cover necessary expenses of living in the greater Male' region with their families.
TEAM has, of late, expressed numerous concerns on several occasions over the mistreatment of employees across Maldives' hospitality industry.
General Secretary of TEAM Mauroof Zahir (Maatte) told Mihaaru that the number of staff being forced on no-pay leave has now significantly increased compared to the initially reported 11,000 employees.
"When concerns are raised about the no-pay leave, some resorts are only offering a certain percent of the salary, for example, 25 percent or 50 percent. As the employees' basic salaries are already low, (as low as USD 250 for some), that amounts to nothing", said Mauroof.
"My biggest concern is that some resorts are forcing employees to leave on no-pay. This is a gross injustice to their hardworking staff".
He further condemned resort management companies that were currently reducing employee allowances and salaries.
Mauroof noted that while only about 12 out of the total 155 resorts operating over Maldives had agreed to provide three months of paid leave, he did not believe that the remaining resorts are withholding pay and deducting salaries because the management cannot afford the expense.
The association estimates that three months of paid leave will cost about USD 400,000, considering the basic salary of most resort workers, and noted that the situation is not dire enough for resort managements to mistreat the staff.
As earlier reported by The Edition, it should be noted that the lucrative-businesses responsible for some of the world's most luxurious properties did not come to fruition overnight. Tourism investments are generally based on stable business models with allocations for contingency plans to be implemented in unforeseeable situations such as the current ongoing situation.
As the global COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire world to an unprecedented halt and employees are forced to lose their livelihood, TEAM stated that the current Employment Act fails to grant protection to resort employees amidst the current situation.
"Resorts are ordering staff to halt operations and leave on no-pay. We cannot even see a legal cure for this situation", Mauroof noted.
He believes that the Parliament must find a solution for this pressing issue. Although the government introduced stimulus packages for businesses to maintain cash-flow in the financial recession, most resorts do not require it.
Therefore, TEAM called on the government to ponder over the fact that all the damage is inflicted on the working class.
According to a legal expert that spoke to The Edition, employers do not have the legal right to unilaterally decide on a deduction of workers’ basic salary to an amount below the figure mutually agreed upon in their employment contracts, or amend the legally mandated allowances. Similarly, the source added that employees could not be forced to take unpaid leaves without their consent. Both parties must be in mutual agreement before an action undetermined by the law, such as unpaid leave, is enforced with binding effect.
Top lawyers in the country have urged 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.