Resort employment in the Maldives
A resort is far less a conventional workplace than a self-contained frontier town in its own right, responsible for its own power, water, sewerage and waste management. Staff don’t just have to be paid but fed, housed, clothed and entertained - and that’s before you even get to the guests and the business of running a hotel in an extremely remote part of the world. Make no mistake - the General Manager is the Mayor, and the Head of Human Resources is the Sheriff.
Types of work
The work available at resorts reflects the massive undertaking of keeping one of these businesses afloat. There are conventional hospitality staples such as food and beverage, housekeeping, guest relations and the administrative side, as well as roles specific to activities the resort offers - spa staff, watersports staff, dive school team, gym instructors, sommelier and so on. Many more behind-the-scenes roles include gardeners, engineers, tailors, nurses and carpenters. Resorts are required to employ a minimum of 50 percent Maldivian staff, and rely heavily on foreign employment for managerial and professional positions. Large hotel chains in particular bring in senior management from outside the country. Many dive schools are also operated separately and may draw in foreign dive staff to cater to various nationalities. Locals often include experienced middle management pulled from across the country, and those from nearby islands who provide skilled and unskilled labour. There are very few female Maldivian resort staff due to a social stigma surrounding the industry in more conservative parts of the country.
Foreign employees are required to have work permits entitling them to work in the Maldives. The employer must apply for a foreign employment quota from the Human Resources Ministry and pay Rf 250 a month as well as a deposit covering the cost of potential deportation to the home country. Be extremely wary of any company that asks you to make your own visa arrangements. Clarify visa issues with the employer prior to travelling, as it is not unheard of for foreign employees to be detained in immigration detention simply because of sloppy paperwork.
Fortunately most resorts are well-practiced at the procedure. It is extremely difficult to transfer work permits from one employer to another should you move jobs while in the Maldives. Immigration has a transfer form, but it requires the signature of both employers which can make life difficult if you burned any bridges. If you are moving to another resort, make sure you leave the old one on a good note.
Resorts should provide food, accommodation and some kind of recreation area. All are as variable in quality as the amenities resorts provide to guests. If at all possible you should try to seek an interview at the resort itself, rather than remotely or an office in Male’. Pay Being paid by a resort increases the likelihood that you will be paid in US dollars, which is common practice even if currency regulations make this illegal. As a foreign employee, you should avoid exposure to the rufiya as much as possible, particularly if all your daily expenses (food, accommodation, etc) are provided by the resort. It can be difficult to repatriate money if you are based in an atoll far from Male’. The Bank of Maldives has branches in every atoll but not always close to the resort. You can read more about finances and many other topics in the Expat forum.
There is an Employment Tribunal under the Human Resources Ministry that can take legal action over contracts, for both locals and foreigners. However proceedings can be long and drawn out, and there is a legal grey area as to whether foreign staff are able to remain in the country while action is pending - it is certainly an expensive proposition, if the employer is no longer providing accommodation. Many expatriates have also experienced difficultly in the past with getting rulings enforced. Unfortunately the best option most of the time is to cut your losses.
Resorts tend to be very sensitive about their public image and by and large tend to play fair, at least compared with many businesses in Male’.
Disagreements with management leading to industrial action by resort employees is not unknown in the Maldives, although expatriate staff are rarely involved. A very common cause of action is a lack of transparency in distributing service charges to staff, which can in some cases make up 70 percent of an employee’s overall take home income. Most top end resorts now make a point of displaying the service charge breakdown on a large noticeboard in a staff common area. The Maldivian Constitution guarantees the right to strike, however the law recognises the right of management not to permit strikes on resort property. When that property is an island, staff have little choice but to conduct any stop work action at management’s pleasure. Follow up dismissals of ringleaders are not unheard of. Most resorts, at a senior management level, are sensitive to the concerns of staff. Resolving the matter amicably with senior resort management - overstepping immediate superiors, if necessary - is almost always the best way forward.
Living and working in a tropical paradise of the brochures may seem like a dream job, but turnover of foreign staff at many resorts is extremely high. Reasons often include limited access to loved ones and lack of a social life or adequate entertainment. At many resorts there is often very limited integration between foreign and local staff, at least out of work hours.
While drinking is a social enabler outside the Maldives, Maldivians are legally prohibited from drinking alcohol and while most resorts have a staff bar, locals are often banned from area. Recognising the social difficulties of living and working on an island, many resorts are surprisingly accommodating for families, even couples with young children, and for certain professions may even take on the spouse as a two-for-one combo. This seems to be very common in dive schools for some reason.
We have observed that there is a very specific type of personality that can thrive in a resort environment when coming to work there from overseas. You need to be laid-back, easygoing, self-entertaining and happy in your own company. Go easy on the gossip, and pack a lot of good books.