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Island Expert puts capital up for sale to pay expat staff's wages

Shahudha Mohamed
08 July 2020, MVT 11:21
Employee's of Thai company Island Expert Pvt Ltd protesting in reclaimed suburb Hulhumale' over delays in salary payments. PHOTO: SOCIAL MEDIA
Shahudha Mohamed
08 July 2020, MVT 11:21

Island Expert Pvt Ltd revealed on Tuesday that the company will sell its on-site capital to pay the wages of their expatriate staff members, who recently held demonstrations in Hulhumale' over being forced to work for months without pay.

The foreigners were recruited to construct flats, presently being built in the reclaimed suburb of Hulhumale, for Maldives Police Service (MPS) and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) personnel.

Managing Director of the Thai company Anon Songpanya told local media Mihaaru that salary payments for some employees were delayed even before the Greater Male' area was placed under lockdown on April 15 to contain the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in the capital region.

Admitting that the company was at fault, the MD added that no employees were paid after the lockdown was implemented.

"I believe it is wrong. I am trying to arrange that [the employee's salaries] now. So I have put the equipment on-site up for sale now", Songpanya said.

According to the MD, selling off on-site equipment and vehicles will be difficult in the current economic conditions, but he maintained his belief that it was the best solution.

Songpanya attributed the delay in salary payments to numerous challenges posed by the lockdown amidst the ongoing global pandemic.

"On one hand, all work had ceased. On the other hand, the expenditure increased greatly with the necessary precautionary steps that had to be taken", he explained.

"Therefore, I gave all my attention to survival. To feed the employs. I made arrangements for that", Songpanya added.

Expatriate workers employed by Island Expert last rioted on Monday, but they protested prior to this as well, on June 25, and back in April 2018, over the same issue of not receiving their wages.

Video footage of the most recent protest shows some workers causing damage to the building as well as to the equipment on site. Clashes were also observed between the expats and police officers while security forces attempted to control the situation.

The Managing Director noted that dismissed staff members that were yet to be sent back to their home countries also participated in the demonstrations.

As per Songpanya, the company had already purchased tickets from Sri Lankan Airlines for the aforementioned employees to return home, when airlines ground their operations and Maldives closed the country's borders due to the pandemic.

"They were demanding to go back to their country even when the borders were closed. But there is nothing we can do about that".

Songpanya stated that the company had requested to charter a Maldivian flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh, but was unsure of when the employees could be repatriated as the permit was still pending.

In response to a question posed by local media Mihaaru regarding the future of the housing project, Island Expert's MD revealed that the process of assigning the remaining work on the flats to a subcontractor was nearly complete.

Construction work for the flats allocated for MPS and MNDF staff commenced in 2012, during former President Mohamed Waheed's administration, but the project is yet to conclude.

Speaking during his presidential campaign on August 11, 2018, incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih assured that keys to the apartments would be handed over to the respective tenants within a year.

"Advance payments for two years have been deducted from [Police and MNDF personnel's] salaries. [Yet] None of their families have been able to move in [to the flats]", acknowledged President Solih, the then-presidential candidate.

These expat-led demonstrations take place amid renewed concerns from rights groups as well as the general public, over the continued exploitation of expatriate workers in Maldives.

Violations reported include that of including human trafficking, withholding of wages, poor living conditions, and other human rights violations. Further, the aforementioned low quality of life has cemented the disproportionate effect had by Maldives' ongoing COVID-19 outbreak on its vast migrant population.

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