Maldives mandates tourism businesses to hire documented foreign workers only

Authorities in Maldives have made it mandatory for resort owners and developers as well as their subcontractors to ensure all of their foreign workers have valid work permits.

Under a new policy that came into effect Friday, leaseholders of tourist establishments — both under development and operating — should ensure that expatriate workers employed directly or through subcontractors have valid work permits.

Contractors, sub-lessees and managers are considered subcontracting parties.

The new policy also applies to all tourist establishments, including resorts, hotels, guesthouses, vessels, diving centres and travel agencies.

Any breach will incur fines under a host of applicable laws and regulations, including the Employment Act and the Immigration Act, as well as the Regulation on the Employment of Expatriate Employees and the Regulation on Work Visas.

The new policy comes as part of a renewed push by the government to prevent human trafficking and forced labour — issued that had long plagued almost every industry of the country’s economy.

The issues are amplified by the challenges in containing the coronavirus outbreak among the migrant worker population.

They have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak in the Maldives. Bangladeshi workers make up the majority of virus cases in country.

The confirmed local transmission clusters in the Maldives now include 1,003 Bangladeshis, 601 Maldivians, 187 Indians, 23 Nepalis, nine Sri Lankans and three Pakistanis.

Authorities managed to mitigate the spread of the virus and the Covid-19 respiratory disease it causes amongst the Maldives’ citizens and residents early on by closing the Indian Ocean tourist paradise’s borders, earning praise from the World Health Organisation.

But the disease later spread rapidly within the large migrant worker community in capital Male. Authorities have ramped up relocating workers from the cramped up dormitories in one of the world’s most densely populated cities to temporary accommodation units.

An estimated 63,000 foreign nationals work in the Maldives illegally out of a migrant worker population close to 145,000.

Foreign workers in the Maldives, predominantly Bangladeshi and Indian men, are subjected to practices indicative of forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt bondage.

As most migrant workers live in extremely poor conditions, a widespread outbreak amongst them could lead to large virus clusters, overwhelming the country’s already under staffed and strained healthcare system and making it harder for authorities to contain the spread of the virus.

On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.

Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.

A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 1,841.

Seven deaths have been reported and 608 have made full recoveries. Five remain in intensive care.

The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.

The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, schools, colleges and universities.

Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.

Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.

A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.

The restrictions in the capital region are now being eased in phases, with the first phase lasting at least until mid June. Most restrictions remain in place for the time.

Photo: Aubrey Belford

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