Section 7. Worker Rights
The labor code provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization and conduct their activities without interference, although unions alleged requirements for trade union registration were excessive. The labor code prohibits any worker conduct that may jeopardize the employer’s reputation or legitimate economic and organizational interests and explicitly provides for the possibility of restricting the workers’ personal rights in this regard–including their right to express an opinion during or outside of working hours. With the exception of law enforcement and military personnel, prison guards, border guards, health-care workers, and firefighters, workers have the right to strike. The law permits military and police unions to seek resolution of grievances in court. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
Workers performing activities that authorities determine are essential to the public interest, such as schools, public transport, telecommunications, water, and power, may not strike unless an agreement has been reached on provision of “sufficient services” during a strike. Courts determine the definition of sufficient services. National trade unions opposed the law on the basis that the courts lacked the expertise to rule on minimum service levels and generally refused to rule on such cases, essentially inhibiting the right to strike.
The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining. Penalties were generally inadequate to deter violations. The labor inspectorate does not use inspections, remediation efforts, or monetary penalties in enforcement efforts. Administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Trade unions alleged that national prosecutors restricted trade union activities and in some cases reported antiunion dismissals and union busting by employers. There were also reports of unilateral termination of collective agreements. Unions reported the government continued to attempt to influence their independent operation.
While the law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, court proceedings on unfair dismissal cases sometimes took more than a year to complete, and authorities did not always enforce court decisions.
While the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, observers asserted the government failed to enforce it effectively. Penalties for forced labor were comparable to penalties for other serious crimes.
Groups vulnerable to forced labor included those in extreme poverty, undereducated young adults, Roma, and homeless men and women. Hungarian men and women were subjected to forced labor domestically and abroad, and labor trafficking of Hungarian men in Western Europe occurred in agriculture, construction, and factories. The government increased law enforcement efforts and sustained its prevention efforts.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The constitution generally prohibits child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from working, except that children who are 15 or 16 may work under certain circumstances as temporary workers during school vacations or may be employed to perform in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities with parental consent. Children may not work night shifts or overtime or perform hard physical labor. Violations may be punished with imprisonment not exceeding three years.
Through the end of December 2017, the employment authority reported four cases, involving four children, of child labor younger than 15. The employment authority also reported 10 cases involving 12 children ages 15 and 16 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal representatives during the school year as well as 15 cases involving 23 children ages 16 to 18 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal representatives. The employment authority noted the increase was the result of tighter legislation, which requires presentation of parental permission during an inspection.
The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, infection with HIV or other communicable diseases, or social status. The labor code provides for the principles of equal treatment. The government failed to enforce these regulations effectively. Penalties took the form of fines but were generally inadequate to deter violations.
Observers asserted that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to Roma, women, and persons with disabilities. According to NGOs, there was economic discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly against job seekers older than 50 and those who were pregnant or had returned from maternity leave. A government decree requires companies with more than 25 employees to reserve 5 percent of their work positions for persons with physical or mental disabilities. While the decree provides fines for noncompliance, many employers generally paid the fines rather than employ persons with disabilities. The National Tax and Customs Authority issued “rehabilitation cards” to persons with disabilities, which granted tax benefits for employers employing such individuals.
In 2017 the net national minimum monthly wage for full-time employment of unskilled workers did not reach the poverty level, while the special minimum monthly wage for skilled workers slightly exceeded the poverty level.
The law sets the official workday at eight hours, although it may vary depending on industry. A 48-hour rest period is required during any seven-day period. The regular workweek is 40 hours with premium pay for overtime and two days of rest. The labor code sets the maximum limit of overtime at 250 hours per year and provides for 10 paid annual national holidays; overtime is owed only if the aggregate hours worked during a year exceed 40 hours per week. On December 13, parliament amended the labor code; this new labor code enters into force on January 1, 2019, and allows for up to 400 hours of overtime per year that can be paid and reconciled up to three years after the labor is performed. A number of demonstrations took place across the country against the new labor code.
The government set occupational safety and health standards, which were up to date and appropriate for the main industries. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations. Labor laws also apply to foreign workers with work permits. Labor standards were not enforced in the informal economy.
The employment authority and the labor inspectorate units of government offices monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards and labor code regulations. According to the Labor Protection Directorate of the Finance Ministry, 23,387 injuries occurred at workplaces, most of them in the mechanical engineering and manufacturing industries in 2017. There were 79 workplace fatalities, most of which took place in the construction, processing, transport, warehousing, and logistics sectors.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution provides for workers’ freedom of association; however, there is no law protecting the right to freedom of association, which is required to allow unions to register and operate without interference and discrimination. Worker organizations are treated as civil society organizations without the right to engage in collective bargaining. Police and armed forces do not have the right to form unions. The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act effectively prohibits strikes by workers in the resort sector, the country’s largest money earner. Employees in the following services are also prohibited from striking: hospitals and health centers, electricity companies, water providers, telecommunications providers, prison guards, and air traffic controllers. The Home Ministry enforces the act by arresting workers who go on strike. There were widespread reports from civil society organizations that civil service employees were also discouraged from going on strikes or participating in political protests. In August and September, there were reports that the government terminated or transferred several government workers to other islands for participating in the opposition’s presidential campaign activities.
The government did not always enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Relations Authority (LRA) is mandated to oversee compliance of the Employment Act and its related regulations. The Employment Tribunal examines and adjudicates legal matters arising between employers and employees and other employment problems, but its processes are cumbersome and complicated. Violators who refused to correct violations or pay fines were referred to the courts, whose decisions often were ignored. The cases are heard in the Dhivehi language, which few foreign workers understood. Foreign workers may not file a case with the tribunal unless they appoint a representative to communicate for them in the local language. If an employer fails to comply with a decision of the tribunal, the case must be submitted to the Civil Court, which often delays decisions. The Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) reported the judicial system had delayed final decisions on numerous such cases, some older than five years of age. The Employment Tribunal only hears cases submitted within six months of the alleged offense. In September the Employment Tribunal amended its regulations so that dismissed or withdrawn appeals can only be resubmitted once. Previously, there was no restriction on the number of times such cases could be resubmitted. The Employment Tribunal received 148 claims as of July, 97 of which dealt with unfair dismissal.
Under the law, some workers’ organizations were established as civil society organizations, specifically in the tourism, education, health, and shipping (seafarers’) sectors, although these functioned more as cooperative associations and had very limited roles in labor advocacy. The Teachers Association of the Maldives and TEAM were among the more active workers’ organizations, along with the Maldives Fisherman’s Association and Maldivian Ports Workers.
All forms of forced or compulsory labor are prohibited, but the government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and there were reports forced labor occurred. Nevertheless, the LRA reported officers were adequately trained to identify cases of forced labor and stated that the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act provided an effective solution.
Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The foreign worker population was particularly vulnerable to forced labor. Maldives Immigration detained undocumented workers at Hulhumale Detention Center, an immigration-processing center near Male, until deportation or repatriation. There were reports of bureaucratic delays in processing undocumented immigrants and substandard facilities at the immigration processing center. Maldives Immigration reported it screened the workers for victims of trafficking, but there were reports some of the detained and deported undocumented workers should have been identified as trafficking victims.
Under the penal code, forced labor carries a penalty of up to eight-years’ imprisonment. Under section 29 of the Maldives Prevention of Human Trafficking Act, confiscation, alteration, or withholding of identity and travel documents is a crime, and perpetrators are subject to up to five-years’ imprisonment. In 2015 parliament approved the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons for 2015-19. The penalty for human trafficking is a maximum sentence of 10 years. The police confirmed they did not investigate any labor recruiters or agencies allegedly engaged in fraudulent practices during the year.
The LRA, under the Ministry of Economic Development, recommended blacklisting of companies that violated the law, precluding the companies from bringing in new workers until violations were rectified. Maldives Immigration enforced the measure and blacklisted additional companies, although some companies resurfaced under different names. The law allows a fine of not more than MVR 50,000 ($3,250) for forced labor and other violations of the Employment Act, but the LRA reported this amount was not sufficient to deter violations by large companies. The government took steps to improve the conditions of migrant workers through the periodic distribution of pamphlets explaining their rights that were translated into languages commonly used by these workers.
As of August, Maldives Immigration reported the number of documented foreign workers at approximately 145,000. They estimated there were an additional 15,000-20,000 undocumented foreign workers in the country, mostly from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. Some of the 160,000-165,000 foreign workers in the country were subject to forced labor in the construction and tourism sectors. Most victims of forced labor suffered the following practices: debt bondage, holding of passports by employers, fraudulent offers of employment, not being paid the promised salary, or not being paid at all. Domestic workers, especially migrant female domestic workers, were sometimes trapped in forced servitude, in which employers used threats, intimidation, and in some cases sexual violence to prevent them from leaving.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16, with an exception for children who voluntarily participate in family businesses. The law prohibits employment of children under age 18 in “any work that may have a detrimental effect on health, education, safety, or conduct,” but there was no list of such activities. The law prescribes a fine of no less than MVR 1,000 ($65) and no more than MVR 5,000 ($325) for infractions. The Civil Service Commission reported there were 18 civil servants between the ages of 16 and 18 working for the government as of July 31.
The Ministry of Gender and Family, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Family and Child Protection Unit of the MPS are tasked with receiving, investigating, and taking action on complaints of child labor. According to the LRA, MPS and the Ministry of Gender and Family, none of the complaints received related to child labor or employment of minors. Additionally, the LRA found no cases of child labor during its regular labor inspections during the year. The MPS had investigated five cases of child pornography none of which was forwarded for prosecution as of July. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, because no additional resources were dedicated specifically to uncover additional child labor cases.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, political opinion, religion, social origin, marital status, or family obligations. The government generally enforced those laws and regulations, with some exceptions that included unequal pay for women and retribution for political association.
According to NGOs, there were no policies in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law. The law and constitution prohibit discrimination against women for employment or for equal pay or equal income, but women tended to earn less than men for the same work and also because they tended to work in lower-paying industries. The absence of child-care facilities made it difficult for women with children to remain employed after they had children.
In March the Education Ministry dismissed a schoolteacher for participating in a political opposition protest. Parents of students at the school complained and noted other teachers who participated in political rallies in support of the government had not been dismissed. The teacher was not reinstated as of October.
The Employment Act establishes an Employment Tribunal to examine and protect the rights of employers and employees in legal matters and other employment problems. In 2016 President Yameen overhauled the seven-person tribunal by dismissing its president and vice president and appointing two new members. According to the Employment Act, tribunal members can be removed only in cases of bankruptcy, incapacity, conviction, negligence, or contravening the oath of office. Civil society organizations asserted the former president and vice president did not violate any of these stipulations, and the surprise dismissal of the tribunal members led to allegations of executive branch control over tribunal decisions. TEAM claimed President Yameen misused his authority to influence the tribunal’s decisions, especially in cases in which persons were fired for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of assembly.
Discrimination against migrant workers was pervasive (see section 7.b.).
The country does not have a national policy on minimum wage. Wages in the private sector were commonly set by contract between employers and employees and were based on rates for similar work in the public sector. The salary of the lowest-paid employee in the government sector was MVR 3,100 ($202) per month. According to TEAM, the average monthly salary for a worker employed at a tourism resort was MVR 3,835 ($250). According to 2016 Asian Development Bank statistics, 15 percent of citizens lived below the poverty level of MVR 29 ($1.90) per day.
The law establishes maximum hours of work, overtime, annual and sick leave, maternity leave, and guidelines for workplace safety. The law provides for a 48-hour per week limit on work with a compulsory 24-hour break if employees work six days consecutively. Certain provisions in the law, such as overtime and public-holiday pay, do not apply to emergency workers, air and sea crews, executive staff of any company, or workers who are on call. The law mandates implementation of a safe workplace, procurement of secure tools and machinery, verification of equipment safety, use of protective equipment to mitigate health hazards, employee training in the use of protective gear, and appropriate medical care. All employers are required to provide health insurance for foreign workers.
There were no national standards for safety measures, and as a result such measures were at the discretion of employers. The LRA also reported difficulties in assessing safety standards during inspections due to the lack of national standards. In 2013 parliament approved the country’s accession to eight core International Labor Organization conventions, but the government had not finalized the bills required for the conventions to be legislated into domestic law as of September 18.
The LRA and Employment Tribunal are charged with implementing employment law, and the LRA conducted workplace investigations and provided dispute resolution mechanisms to address complaints from workers. Authorities completed 241 inspections as of July 31. The most common findings related to employment contracts and job descriptions, overtime and other pay, and problems related to leave. The LRA preferred to issue notices to employers to correct problems, because cases were deemed closed once fines were paid. The LRA typically gave employers one to three months to correct problems but lacked the resources to monitor compliance systematically. The LRA recommended five companies for blacklisting through Maldives Immigration but did not fine any companies for noncompliance as of July 31. According to Maldives Immigration, there were 2,275 companies blacklisted over multiple years as of August.
The LRA reported 175 labor-related complaints as of September 18, 74 of which came from foreign workers. The majority of the complaints related to nonpayment of salary and benefits and failure to grant annual leave.
Migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation, worked in unacceptable conditions, and were frequently forced to accept low wages to repay their debts with employment agencies, especially within the construction sector. Employers often housed foreign workers at their worksites. Some migrant workers were exposed to dangerous working conditions, especially in the construction industry, and worked in hazardous environments without proper ventilation.
The Employment Act protects workers who remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent trade unions or other associations. It restricts freedom of association for police. While the right to strike is neither protected nor prohibited by law, a civil servant may not foment or take part in a strike and may be summarily dismissed from the service if found guilty of organizing a strike. The law does not specifically provide for the right of workers to collectively bargain, but it does not prohibit it. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination, and there is no legal right to reinstatement for dismissal due to union activity; however, workers may seek redress through the civil court system.
The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations include fines, which were adequate to deter violations.
The country lacks formal trade unions. The transient nature of the mostly foreign workforce hampered efforts to organize trade unions.
The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. In general, the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law does not stipulate penalties. Civil courts handle cases of forced labor. There were no reports such practices occurred.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16 years. No regulations govern type of work, occupation, or hours for workers younger than age 18, nor do they identify hazardous occupations. The Department of Human Resources and Labor is responsible for enforcing the law. The government enforced the law in the public sector but did not conduct any workplace inspections of private businesses.
The only two significant employers–the government and the phosphate industry–respected minimum age restrictions. There were reports some children younger than age 17 years worked in small family-owned businesses.
Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. The law requires that public servants receive equal pay for work of equal value and provides for an entitlement to maternity leave after a woman has completed six months of employment. Women working in the private sector do not have a similar entitlement.
Discrimination in employment and wages occurred with respect to women. Societal pressures and the country’s general poverty limited opportunities for women. While women headed approximately one-third of all households, less than one-quarter of heads of households engaged in paid work were female.
Overall 70 percent of male heads of household and 40 percent of female heads of household were economically active in either paid or unpaid work, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. There were no reports the government took any specific action to prevent employment discrimination.
The minimum starting salary for public-sector employees is approximately 1.80 AUD ($1.30) per hour. There is no minimum wage for private-sector workers. There was no official poverty-level income figure, but approximately 26 percent of the population lived at the subsistence level.
Public-service regulations govern salaries, working hours, vacation periods, and other employment matters for government workers, who constituted more than 90 percent of salaried workers. The government has a graduated salary system for public-service officers and employees.
There is no limit to the maximum number of accumulated overtime hours and no prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime for workers in the public sector. There are no specific regulations that govern overtime or overtime pay for private-sector workers.
While no health and safety law exists, the government sets some health and safety standards, which are current and appropriate for the main industries. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.
The Department of Human Resources and Labor enforced the laws in the public sector. The law allows the ministry the right to inspect a workplace at any time. Authorities can charge an employer with a criminal offense if found to be in violation of the labor law or the provisions of an employment contract, which was sufficient to deter violations.
With the decline of the phosphate industry, enforcement of workplace health and safety requirements continued to be lax.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions, but the government has not promulgated regulations on the formation of unions, collective bargaining, or the right to strike. No law specifically prohibits antiunion discrimination or provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There was no dispute resolution mechanism in place specifically for labor disputes, although persons could take cases to court or refer cases to the Office of the Ombudsman. There were no reports of collective bargaining.
Government enforcement of freedom of association was not entirely effective. Penalties for violations incur criminal fines, which are not sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
The government and employers generally respected freedom of association. Trade unions and a variety of other worker associations exist. For example, the Friendly Islands Teachers Association and the Tonga Nurses Association were legally incorporated as civil society organizations, and the Friendly Island Seafarer’s Union Incorporated was affiliated with the International Transport Workers Federation. The Public Service Association acted as a de facto union representing all government employees.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law. Observers generally considered imprisonment penalties sufficient to deter violations. Although the government made some progress in enforcing relevant legal provisions, no data was available on government efforts specifically to address forced labor. There were unconfirmed, anecdotal reports of forced labor among women and children in domestic service (see section 7.c.).
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
No legislation prohibits child labor or specifies a minimum age for employment. There were no reports that child labor existed in the formal wage economy. According to the National Center for Women and Children and other NGOs, some school-age children worked in the informal sector in traditional family activities such as subsistence farming and fishing. There were also reports of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary domestic servitude of some children.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
The law does not prohibit discrimination based on any particular personal characteristic, feature, or group affiliation. Discrimination against women in employment and wages occurred. Women participated in the work force at a lower rate than men, were generally employed in lower-skilled jobs, and earned measurably less than men earn.
There is no minimum wage, but the Ministry of Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation, and Labor sets wage level guidelines. While no recent data was available, relatively few people lived in destitution, but a significant fraction of the population had difficulty paying for more than basic needs, such as education, transportation, and utilities. The law stipulates occupational health and safety standards for each sector, such as fisheries and agriculture. These standards are current and appropriate for main industries. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.
Enforcement of regulations was inconsistent. The Ministry of Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation, and Labor sought to enforce these standards in all sectors, including the informal economy; however, there were an insufficient number of inspectors. Penalties for violations took the form of monetary fines, which were adequate to deter violations.
Few industries exposed workers to significant danger.