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RIX, Seal Maldives at loggerheads over Bodufinolhu issue

Mariyam Malsa
04 July 2020, MVT 14:43
Police officers departing from Male' on speedboats to address the situation on Bodufinolhu, Baa Atoll. PHOTO: POLICE
Mariyam Malsa
04 July 2020, MVT 14:43

RIX Maldives Pvt Ltd and Seal Maldives issued conflicting statements concerning the development of Bodufinolhu, Baa Atoll, in the wake of the recent hostage situation on the island.

Seal Maldives had contracted RIX Maldives to conduct construction on Bodufinolhu island which is slated for development as a luxury resort. The latter company is owned by the parliamentary representative for Shaviyani Atoll's Milandhoo constituency, Ali Riza.

On Thursday, expatriate workers protested over six months of unpaid wages and barred 13 local staff from departing the island. Maldives Police Service arrested 19 foreign workers during the operation launched to de-escalate the situation and rescue the Maldivians being held hostage.

Later the same day, RIX Maldives' legal team issued a statement, asserting that the company had been unable to pay salaries after SEAL Maldives' failure to make payments for four months starting from January 2020.

Highlighting that Seal Maldives had only credited a fraction of the total MVR 12 million owed upon completion of the project, RIX Maldives accused Seal Maldives of human trafficking and forcing the foreign labourers to continue working without pay.

RIX Maldives stated that agreements signed in November and December 2019 between the two companies mandated Seal to cover salaries and living costs depending on the number of contracted workers.

Each of the 203 workers employed on Bodufinolhu was to receive a monthly salary of MVR 7,000 and a daily allowance of MVR 40 for food.

According to the legal team, the situation escalated following RIX's failure to pay salaries, while employees contracted by Seal were receiving wages regularly.

It was revealed that foreign RIX employees staged a silent protest on May 16, demanding full payment and clearance to leave Maldives for their respective home countries. RIX asserted that the developer would be responsible for covering the cost of all the aforementioned demands.

As per the statement, RIX addressed a letter to Maldives Police Service on May 28, accusing Seal of forcing labourers to work without pay and treating them in a manner that could be construed as an act of human trafficking.

Seal was further accused of using deceit to coerce labourers to continue working and threatening the workers with bodily harm. RIX also accused the developer of shirking the responsibility of sending workers to their home countries by attempting to send them to the capital city of Male'. The foreign workers remained on the island during the lockdown imposed over the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak since RIX stated that it was unable to provide accommodation.

RIX acknowledged that the workers were treated in an inhumane manner prior to the events of Thursday.

The company stated that Commissioner of Police Mohamed Hameed was also informed on June 27 in anticipation that the situation could deteriorate further.

Seal Maldives refutes contractor's claims

Advocacy Chambers, the legal representative of Seal, issued a statement refuting RIX Maldives' claim that the developer had failed to make payments, subsequently causing delays in crediting salaries. Seal Maldives asserted that it had made payments in addition to those mandated by the agreement.

According to the statement, Seal Maldives had paid a total of MVR 21,773,338, while the initial agreement stipulated a payment of MVR 12,332,765 upon completion of the contracted project. The surplus was attributed to the cost of funding additional work.

Seal Maldives stated that there was no reason preventing RIX from paying its workers, accusing the company of neglect. The developer also noted difficulties in conducting the police investigation due to a number of foreign labourers employed by RIX not possessing Work Visas.

Furthermore, Advocacy Chambers denied RIX's claim that Seal was legally required to pay salaries under the terms of agreements signed between the two companies, and asserted that the contractor was mandated to cover insurance, healthcare and Visa application costs in addition to monthly salaries.

The statement also revealed that Seal Maldives launched an internal investigation after RIX had sent an invoice for 300 employees. While only 200 workers are accounted for at present, Seal Maldives had transferred payments in response to the invoice.

Denying RIX's claims that most of the construction work was complete, Seal Maldives also revealed that less than thirty percent of the contracted efforts had been concluded.

The developer further clarified that RIX Maldives was not tasked with developing the entire resort and only contracted to carry out seven percent of the overall efforts required to establish Bodufinolhu as a resort.

Seal Maldives revealed that RIX was now attempting to secure a compensation deal of MVR 1 million despite the absence of any outstanding payments.

During the operation to deescalate the situation at Bodufinolhu, the police moblised Scene of the Crime Officers and investigative teams, including the Human Trafficking Department and Serious and Organised Crimes Department, to inspect the island and investigate the case.

The police disclosed on Friday, with accompanying photographs, that vehicles and equipment used for resort development were damaged and some buildings vandalised during the protest.

A number of officers were also injured during the police's initial attempts to make landfall earlier on Thursday evening, when the expatriate workers prevented them from reaching the island by throwing stones and metal rods from the harbour.

Commissioner of Police Mohamed Hameed has assured that further investigation and action were underway while RIX Maldives and Seal Maldives attempt to reach a solution through discussions.

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