The number of migrant workers has increased significantly in the Maldives over the last two decades. The obvious explanation for the increase is the high demand for labour and skills to sustain the economic growth (Ministry of Planning and National Development, 2006). This view, which seems to have been taken for granted, has been accepted without the exploration of the implications for the migrant workers, the local labour market and the wider society. Notwithstanding the contributions made by the migrant workers to the economy, the large presence of migrant workforce in the country appears to be creating several social problems and in some ways yielding more negative social and economic impacts than positives (Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, 2009). The notion of labour shortage or skill shortage and the over-dependence on migrant workers raise more questions than answers. It says little about why employers turn to migrant workers rather than local employees for jobs which are suitable for, and willing to be taken up by locals. More importantly, it leaves unexamined how migrant workers are treated by their employers and the society at large.
Using face-to-face in-depth interviews with migrant workers, employer
representatives, local workers and their representatives and government officials, and data collected from various documentary sources, this study explores the status and experience of migrant workers in the Maldives. In doing so, this study further examines whether the status and experience of migrant workers differ across sectors and occupational levels. The first section provides an overview of the labour market in the Maldives within which migrant workers are placed. Second, theoretical concepts concerning the status and experience of migrant workers are discussed. After a brief account of research methods, this study goes on to present the findings on the status and experience of migrant workers. Finally, the findings in relation to theoretical concepts are discussed, outlining the implications and suggestions for future research.
The empirical sections of the paper examine the status and experience of migrant workers based on sectors and occupational levels. It begins by placing this research in the context of employers’ perceived preference for migrant workers in the Maldives. Employers prefer migrant workers over local workers due to the perceived usefulness of migrant workers that they are more committed, equipped with the right attitudes and work ethics, less problematic and easy to handle, less costly and fit for purpose. However, as the next section in the empirical analysis shows, both unskilled and professional migrant workers in most sectors are subject to varying degrees of abuse and maltreatment. The final section of the empirical analysis depicts a different picture regarding the migrant workers in resorts. Most of the professional positions in resorts are held by migrant workers and they enjoy better terms and conditions than their local colleagues.
Full text: Employment Relations Record (2011), vol.11, no.2.