In the Maldives, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbates the difficulties of migrant workers

In the Maldives, many migrant workers have not received their wages for almost six months. The blockade led to a huge wave of protests, the most recent taking place on July 21 at Vaavu Atoll and leading to the arrest of 22 people. Our observers explain that these late payments, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, further expose migrants to dangerous working conditions.The majority of foreign workers in the Maldives are unskilled workers working in the construction and tourism industries, most from India, Bangladesh and Nepal. These workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and many among them arevictims of human trafficking.

They often work in dangerous conditions and live in unhealthy places. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated their difficulties: Currently, 1,472 Bangladeshi workers have tested positive for Covid-19, which represents half of 3,369 cases registered in the Maldives.

Fathimath Saaira is a member of the NGO and the left-wing political movement “Navaanavai” as campaigns for the rights of migrant workers. She visited several websites:

The exploitation of migrant workers is not new, but the many protests reveal their current conditions. The Covid-19 pandemic has made these problems visible.

In the video below, migrant workers from Hulhumale Island describe the conditions in which they live.
In this video, migrant workers explain that they are forced to use dirty and polluted water to shower, and that they have no place to throw their rubbish.

They are often forced to eat, live and sleep in inhumane conditions, which can be similar to those in labor camps. When a floor in a building is finished, they leave them [les migrants] live there without adequate protection. They have to wake up at 5 pm to work. In most cases, workers get the same breakfast and lunch every day: lentils, rice and bread. These are often cheap and unhealthy products.

They have to cook and do what they need to do in a small, half-walled area. They do not breathe good air, they have to take a shower in an open space, without soap, nothing. They are really desperate.

In the second video, migrant workers from the island of Hulhumale describe their living conditions in a temporary structure.

“We are in this place, we live like dogs. They do not ask us if we have anything to eat or drink (…) They do not even pay our wages,” the filmmaker explains.

Contacted by the editorial staff of France 24 Observers, a spokesman for Iceland Expert Pvt, the company that employs these workers on the Hulhumale website, denied the allegations of ill-treatment. This Thai company is very active in the construction industry in the Maldives and the government is one of its largest customers.
“Allegations such as malnutrition, unhealthy living conditions and non-compliance with health / medical supplies are all false and have been refuted by the labor union and the Maldives Human Rights Commission after their inspection and investigation,” he said.

Protests due to late payments

In July, when several construction companies had not paid their employees for several months – and even before the pandemic – the situation worsened. “The payment of salaries to our staff has been delayed since the beginning of the year, which represents between three and four months of late payment, due to large payments that have not been received from our customers, such as Ensis Fisheries Pvt Ltd,” further explained spokesman for Island Expert Pvt to our editorial staff.

The workers recruited by Iceland Expert Pvt to build apartments in Hulhumalé have not been paid since December 2019. In the end, these apartments will accommodate police members (MPS) and the Maldivian Armed Forces (MNDF).

The company had promised to pay the salary for the last seven months until July 12, but the workers received only the equivalent of 89 euros each. Some explained to the local newspaper Sun Media that they should receive at least 290 euros per month. With 600 workers on site, at least 180,000 euros have not been paid.

Tired of waiting, the workers organized a demonstration in the suburbs of the city of Hulhumalé on July 14. After clashes with the police, 41 of them arrested. As many do not have identity documents, the prosecution has been delayed.

In this video, which is broadcast live on Facebook and filmed by resident Afsah Damps, protesters wearing masks and yellow work vests from Iceland Expert Pvt march through the streets. Tensions increase when the police intervene.

Video of a demonstration against Iceland Expert Pvt, filmed by Afsah Damps.