The lawyers representing the expatriate workers arrested in the riot at Bodufinolhu, Baa Atoll, levelled allegations against Maldives Police Service and the island developer Seal Maldives on Saturday.
On July 2, 203 expatriate workers in Bodufinolhu protested over six months of unpaid wages and barred 13 local staff from leaving the island. Maldives Police Service arrested 19 individuals amid the operation to de-escalate the hostage situation.
According to a statement released by the expatriate workers’ legal team, Seal Maldives provoked the violence on the island by repeatedly threatening the workers. However, Seal Maldives had formerly denied these claims.
The lawyers’ statement documented a timeline of the events that took place on Bodufinolhu leading up to the incident of July 2.
The disputes began with a demonstration held on May 16 over delays in payment, the statement read.
Lawyers representing the detained workers accused that the head of Seal Maldives on the island attempted to intimidate the workers into halting protests by threatening to cut off food, in addition to reporting the matter to police, stating that the expats were causing unrest.
In addition, the legal team also accused Seal Maldives of issuing death threats and attempting to bring a gang mob from the atoll to attack the workers.
In 2019, Seal Maldives had contracted the construction work of Bodufinolhu, which is being developed as a luxury resort, to RIX Pvt Ltd, a company owned by the parliamentary representative for Shaviyani Atoll’s Milandhoo constituency, Ali Riza.
Following the hostage situation which arose due to unpaid wages, both companies issued conflicting statements regarding their respective contractual roles concerning the expatriate workers.
RIX has maintained assertions that Seal Maldives was legally required to pay salaries and that RIX was only assigned a management role concerning the workers. The contractor claimed that delays in crediting salaries were caused by Seal Maldives’ failure to make payments.
Seal Maldives countered with a statement noting that it had made payments in addition to those mandated by agreements, and accused RIX of neglect, stating that there was no reason preventing the contractor from paying its workers. The developer also asserted that RIX was mandated to cover insurance, healthcare and Visa application costs in addition to monthly salaries.
Following the first demonstration, Seal Maldives had ordered RIX to extradite the workers that had damaged property, under the rights granted to Seal Maldives from mutually signed agreements to order the removal of labourers from the island.
Allegations against authorities
According to the expats’ lawyers, the police investigated Seal Maldives’ claim and concluded that no unrest took place, after which Seal Maldives reported the case again.
After Thulhaadhoo Police Station closed the case, it was reported to Eydhafushi Police Station, resulting in police arresting one migrant worker singled out by Seal Maldives, the lawyers said.
Moreover, the legal representatives accused the police of not providing protection for expats and issuing threats against them as well.
Although the lawyers of the detained expats have levelled heavy accusations against Seal Maldives and the police, Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) providing legal assistance to the expats currently on Bodufinolhu have stated that the expats’ only complaint was being forced to work without pay.
Board member of PILC and lawyer Abdulla Naahid had stated that over 170 migrant workers still on the island are yet to receive six months of salary. Some workers have not been paid for even longer.
The centre that provides legal services to marginalized individuals and groups extended pro-bono assistance to the migrants on Bodufinolhu, and have now forwarded a case to the Employment Tribunal over the unpaid wages.
The protest on Bodufinolhu took place amid renewed concerns from rights groups as well as the general public, over the continued exploitation of expatriate workers in the Maldives. Violations reported include that of human trafficking, withholding of wages, poor living conditions, and other human rights violations.
According to Maldives Immigration, 48 individuals from among the 203 workers possess the proper documentation.
In response to the Bodufinolhu case, left-wing political movement ‘Navaanavai’ has demanded that the Prosecutor General’s Office drop charges against the 19 people arrested over the hostage situation, given the gross mistreatment of the employees.
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