Cablegate: Maldives Considers Major Labor Reforms

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

290954Z Sep 04





E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (U) Summary: After years of inaction,
the Maldives government is set to embrace
far-reaching labor reforms which appear
to be linked to President Gayoom's overall
political reform program. The Minister of
Employment and Labor seeks US assistance.
End Summary.

2. (U) In a September 21 meeting with
Econoff, Minister of Employment and Labor,
Abdul Rasheed Hussain, described an
ambitious program of action that would
bring the nation into compliance with
international core labor standards and
address the pressing problem of youth
unemployment. (Note: In 1995, the USG
suspended the GoRM's eligibility under
the GSP system because of its lack of
protection for labor rights. The law
does not recognize workers' rights to
form or join unions, or to strike. End

3. (U) Projects Hussain described include:
1) a new ILO-consistent labor law, with
plans to ratify ILO core labor conventions;
2) a plan for seminars leading from island
level up to regional level, culminating in
a national seminar to identify demand for
labor and labor capacity; 3) a National
Action Plan; 4) establishment of a fund
to support a joint government-private
sector skills development program for
youth; 5) development of regulations and
guidelines for occupational health and
safety; 6) establishment of labor tribunals;
and 7) a monitoring and inspection system for
the country's many foreign workers.

4. (U) Hussain noted that pressure from high
youth unemployment and the relatively large
number of foreign workers (40% of the labor
force), have led the GoRM to seriously address
labor issues. (During a previous visit by
Econoff in early 2004, Attorney General Hassan
Saeed mentioned a new labor law as part of a
slate of laws to be enacted in the GoRM reform
program.) Hussain mentioned that it was
drafted by an ILO expert, and was expected to
go before Parliament late this year or in the
first 2005 session. He assured Econoff that
ratification of ILO conventions would follow.
ILO membership is a goal but, Hussain said, he
recognized that the government must put labor
protections in place first.

Requests for USG Assistance
5. (U) The Minister asked for USG assistance,
specifically in the following areas: exchanges
and training opportunities, information
(especially on OSHA issues and training),
International Visitor (IV) slots, visits by
USG officials and assistance from the
Solidarity Center. Post has already
proposed supporting a National Seminar on the
Labor Law described by the Attorney General
through a DRL grant. Econoff promised to
pursue avenues for assistance. Following are
descriptions of the major efforts planned
by the Ministry:

Occupational Safety and Health
6. (U) At present, there are no national laws
and few regulations, standards or reporting
requirements to protect workers. Hussain said
he would be eager to get information on
establishing such protections, storing and
disseminating the information, and adding a
reporting requirement for employers.

National Seminar
7. (U) Starting from the island level, and
working up through atoll, regional and finally
on the national level, seminars will be held
to identify labor opportunities and needs.
The intent is to address difficulties in
creating employment. Hussain disagreed with
the oft-repeated belief that Maldivians do not
want to do the work that is available. He
claimed there are many opportunities created
by new infrastructure and resort development
projects. Through these seminars, the Ministry
would learn about the youth skills available
and the employers' demands for labor. At least
one person per 1,000 citizens would attend
these seminars, which began this week. The
national seminar, to be held in August 2005,
would result in an action plan to address
the mismatch between skills and demands.

National Fund for Skills Training
8. (U) The Ministry has agreed with employers
on a shared cost training program. The
Ministry will pay for academic instruction
of unemployed youths, and the employers will
hire them as apprentices for two years, which
hopefully will lead to full-time job offers.
The GoRM is also reviewing the 50/50 scheme,
currently requiring employers to hire one
Maldivian for each foreign worker. In reality,
the Minister said, this means that the Maldivians
work on the boats or as room attendants, and the
foreigners work in management. With this new
training plan, they hope to prepare Maldivians
to take some of the positions with higher
responsibility. A 60/40 plan is also being

Foreign Worker Protection
9. (U) There is little government oversight of
foreign workers, 40% of the labor force, beyond
registration. There have been allegations of
abuse (poor working conditions, nonpayment of
wages, restricted freedom of workers) and new
efforts will begin to address this. Officials
will inspect places that employ foreign workers,
and, as of January 1, 2005, workers, rather than
employers, will hold their worker's permit cards.

Expiration of MultiFiber Arrangement(MFA)
10. (U) The Minister said that, though the
factories that will depart Maldives on expiration
of the MFA are staffed overwhelmingly by
foreigners, the move will have an impact on
Maldivian workers. Jobs in nearby shops,
food and supplies provision, and transport
will be lost, along with revenue from the
property leases.

11. (SBU) While these proposals are welcome, and
Post recommends USG support, they must also be
viewed in the broader context of President Gayoom's
ambitious but stalled political reform in Maldives.
These labor reforms would garner wide international
attention and support, but the GoRM needs to move
ahead simultaneously on broader political reform
and general improvement in the human rights arena
as well.

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