Tourism Employees Association of Maldives, on Sunday, described the increasing opportunities afforded solely to expatriates working at resorts as a serious cause for concern.
Mauroof Zahir, TEAM’s Secretary General, said that during former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s presidency, at the time when Ahmed Adeeb served as Tourism Minister, a government circular was issued stating that only 55 percent of resort employees could comprise of foreign nationals, requiring the remainder 45 percent employees hired to be Maldivian.
However, Zahir highlighted that an increasing number resorts in the Maldives are in violation of this policy, hiring as much as 70 percent or more of foreign staff.
Asserting that the island-based teams at resorts should be made up of at least 60 percent Maldivian staff, Zahir added that, the availability of local expertise remain high, it was those in authority that had a responsibility to assure the rights of Maldivians were upheld in the industry via local hiring initiatives.
“Resort operators claim that it is difficult to acquire Maldivian staff. However, there is no labour audit in the Maldives [as a basis]. There are no records of persons actively seeking jobs, nor totalling numbers of a skilled labour force,” said Zahir.
“The way we see it, there are qualified Maldivians. However, they are unable to secure jobs at resorts.”
In addition, Zahir stated there were several issues in the tourism industry’s hiring policies, noting that often, expatriates were hired even as security personnel, roles that he believes can be fulfilled by locals.
As many resort positions offer salaries of MVR 20,000 and above, he said that there was no reason as to why Maldivians would not opt for such opportunities.
“The Maldivians workforce are not trouble-free. There are some problems in terms of ethics and attitudes. However, with adequate support from the government, these obstacles can be tackled easily” said Zahir.
Noting that approximately 60 percent of those performing at ExCo or managerial levels were employees of foreign nationalities, Zahir expressed his belief that opportunities should not be as biased.
Further, Zahir stated that most accounting staff were Sri Lankan nationals, while a majority of IT experts hailed from India. On that note, he maintained that the reasoning offered by management companies that Sri Lankan and Indian employees were less likely to complain or were unlikely to use their days off, whereas Maldivians typically accumulate four of their allotted monthly holidays and visit their island homes, was not acceptable reasoning to not hire locally.
Over the years, many Maldivians have reported hiring issues in the tourism industry, in different fields of work from operations and front office, to sales and marketing, food and beverage, room divisions, and even photography and design, from vast salary differences for equally qualified applicants with western employees earning as much as 50% more than locals, as well as differences in benefits and treatment.
Many local employees attest to incidents of white-washing and discrimination, from not being able to eat at resort restaurants unlike their equally designated foreign counterparts, not being able to eat by hand in staff quarters at certain luxury resorts although it is local custom to do so, as well as being referred to by derogatory slurs and being in the front line of accusations.
Historically, authorities have taken a backseat to such incidents, and resort management companies are left to manage such issues independently. However, it is the only such incidence where the government has allowed corporations the extensive freedom and powers of being responsible for an entire ‘community’ based on a single island, that stands physically separate from the presence of any regulatory bodies or observation.
Hence, due to the aforementioned circumstances, measuring discrimination, harassment and worker’s rights abuses that take place at resorts has been nearly impossible.
TEAM estimates that of the 45,000 employees boasted by the ever expanding Maldives’ tourism industry, only 20,000 are Maldivian nationals.
At this time, Maldives is home to 144 resorts in operation, while another 133 upcoming properties are currently in the developmental phase. The tourism industry of Maldives is one of its main employers and largest source of income, responsible for over 28 percent of the country’s GDP.
According to surveys conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics, out of 8000 unemployed persons in the Maldives, 75 percent are young people, of which males aged 20-34 list difficulties in finding work and lack of employment opportunities as a primary cause.
Based on these findings, United Nations Populations Fund published projections in 2018 predicting that the percentage of foreigners working in the Maldives will rise from 30% to 50% or higher by the year 2050, totalling at a possible 370 000 expats. For added context, the 2017 census places the current population of the Maldives at 436,330.