Be­yond Beau­ti­ful Re­sorts

Mi­grant work­ers in the Mal­dives are treated like slaves by em­ploy­ers.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Asra Khur­shid The writer is a stu­dent at the La­hore School of Eco­nom­ics. She reg­u­larly writes on so­cial is­sues.

Mi­grant work­ers in the Mal­dives are treated like slaves by em­ploy­ers.

The Mal­dives, an ex­otic is­land coun­try lo­cated in the In­dian Ocean, is renowned for its beauty and is un­doubt­edly a fas­ci­nat­ing hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion. It is fa­mous for its nat­u­ral beauty - the blue wa­ter and the white beaches. It is also an ideal place for wa­ter sports such as swim­ming, fish­ing, scuba div­ing, snor­kel­ing, wa­ter-ski­ing, wind­surf­ing and kite board­ing. Also, due to its ex­tra­or­di­nary un­der­wa­ter ma­rine life and clean wa­ters, the Mal­dives is ranked among the best recre­ational div­ing des­ti­na­tions in the world in ad­di­tion to be­ing a favourite hon­ey­moon des­ti­na­tion.

The nat­u­ral beauty of the Mal­dives at­tracts thou­sands of tourists from around the world. Tourism is the coun­try’s largest in­dus­try and plays a vi­tal role in in­flow of for­eign ex­change and gen­er­at­ing em­ploy­ment. No won­der then that in the Mal­di­vian ar­chi­pel­ago, there while 200 is­lands are in­hab­ited by the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, around 80 are de­vel­oped for the pur­pose of tourism. The Mal­dives is also fa­mous for its wa­ter vil­las. Around two-thirds of the 5000 wa­ter vil­las in the world are lo­cated in the Mal­dives.

How­ever, scenic beauty is not the only rea­son why the Mal­dives is fa­mous around the world. Un­for­tu­nately, it is also known for hu­man traf­fick­ing and min­i­mal la­bor laws. There is a high ra­tio of mi­grant work­ers in the coun­try who suf­fer at the hands of their em­ploy­ers. Th­ese mi­grant work­ers, and a large num­ber of lo­cal la­bor­ers, are em­ployed in de­vel­op­ing and build­ing the beau­ti­ful re­sorts for tourists.

Their hard work is not com­pa­ra­ble to the money they get or the work­ing con­di­tions they work in. Th­ese work­ers are gen­er­ally ma­nip­u­lated and not given their due rights. In most cases, they can­not even voice their con­cerns as trade unions do not ex­ist in the Mal­dives. The work­ers build world-class re­sorts that the tourists are so fond of, but their own ac­com­mo­da­tion fa­cil­i­ties are in a di­lap­i­dated con­di­tion.

It is not just the mi­grant la­bor­ers who suf­fer. The lo­cal work­ers are also un­der­paid and work un­der harsh con­di­tions. At times, th­ese la­bor­ers work seven days a week and are paid af­ter six months. They are barely granted any leave. In fact, they do not get a hol­i­day even on May 1. Work­ing con­di­tions in many of the lux­u­ri­ous re­sorts are poor and em­ploy­ees have vir­tu­ally no rights. La­bor­ers are of­ten pro­vided just por­ridge for break­fast. For the rest of the meals, they have to rely on their own catch of fish while they are also sup­posed to ar­range for their drink­ing wa­ter. Many of them do part-time jobs so that they can pur­chase food and items of per­sonal use such as soap and medicines.

The mi­grant work­ers come to the Mal­dives in search of bet­ter em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and liv­ing con­di­tions but af­ter reach­ing there they find them­selves trapped by their em­ploy­ers who take away their pass­ports and other im­por­tant doc­u­ments which forces them to stay. They are treated like slaves and can barely stand up against the atro­cious be­hav­ior of their em­ploy­ers.

It’s a com­bi­na­tion of bad pol­i­tics and cor­rupt busi­ness prac­tices which views work­ers as noth­ing bet­ter than paid slaves. The liv­ing and work­ing con­di­tions of work­ers are in sharp con­trast to the ser­vices they of­fer to the high-pay­ing res­i­dents of the plush vil­las who are bliss­fully un­aware that the at­ten­dants pam­per­ing them dur­ing their ex­pen­sive stay some­times go with­out salaries for months.

Em­ploy­ers give lit­tle con­sid­er­a­tion to the health and safety of work­ers. As soon as their of­fi­cial work ends, they are of­ten made to run per­sonal er­rands and chores for their em­ploy­ers. Even though there have been at­tempts to in­tro­duce la­bor laws, it is hard to say how strictly they are im­ple­mented. There is bad gover­nance and no one re­ally puts in the ef­fort to im­prove the work­ing con­di­tions for th­ese poor work­ers. There are barely any health or safety laws to pro­tect them de­spite the fact that they put their lives at risk ev­ery sin­gle day while build­ing wa­ter vil­las.

The sil­ver lin­ing is that the is­sue is now get­ting a lot of at­ten­tion and at­tempts are be­ing made to en­act and en­force effective la­bor laws in the Mal­dives. La­bor rights or­ga­ni­za­tions are also emerg­ing in the coun­try. Af­ter the en­act­ment of the Anti-Hu­man Traf­fick­ing leg­is­la­tion, the act of with­hold­ing pass­ports or iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments of mi­grant work­ers to ex­ploit them has been crim­i­nal­ized.

This law is ex­pected to bring about a change in the work­ing con­di­tions of work­ers as they will now not be un­der any threat and can opt out if they are not sat­is­fied with their work­ing con­di­tions. If the law is strictly im­ple­mented, it will bring in a huge ad­van­tage to the hard­work­ing la­bor­ers. Their sit­u­a­tion will hope­fully im­prove and they can look to­wards get­ting their due rights.

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