NZ's Maldives consul causes concern

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 10:35 09/01/2013

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New Zealand's honorary consul in the Maldives is embroiled in an employment dispute which a union says could harm New Zealand's international reputation.

Businessman Ahmed Saleem was appointed to the position in 2001.

He is also a director of Crown Company, a Maldives firm which owns the Conrad Hilton resort on Rangali Island in the archipelago.

Twenty-nine employees at the luxury resort - where rooms cost more than $2000 a day - were sacked after a peaceful stopwork meeting last year.

Of those, 22 took their case to the local employment tribunal and won. The tribunal ordered that they be reinstated and receive backpay.

However, the resort’s PR manager, Katherine Anthony, said the case was under appeal in the High Court of the Maldives and the final verdict was pending.

The resort was not legally required to reinstate the previous employees while the court considered the appeal, she said.

Service and Food Workers Union national secretary John Ryall said New Zealand's link to the case was "pretty outrageous".

He wants the Government to tell Saleem to comply with the tribunal's ruling and if he doesn't, to remove him as honorary consul.

"We [New Zealanders] do pride ourselves as an upholder of basic labour rights, despite our arguments about some of the New Zealand legislation, but certainly when a court orders the reinstatement of workers we would expect that to be done."

As a director, Saleem should be held accountable and failure to do so could harm New Zealand's reputation, he said.

Ryall has written to Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, asking for urgent action.

McCully said he had only received the letter this week and had asked the Foreign Affairs Ministry for further information.

Green MP Denise Roche said honorary consuls were representatives of the New Zealand government and the posts should be respected.

McCully should establish the extent of Saleem's involvement in the case and if he was implicated he should be asked to comply with the tribunal or step down, she said.

"That's what you would be expecting the minister would be insisting upon."

Labour MP Darien Fenton said failure to act could have consequences for other honorary consuls around the world because labour unions co-operated internationally these days and would not "sit by and let this continue".

Acting Labour Minister Chris Finlayson should use some influence in Cabinet to address the matter quickly, she said.

Salem, whose links to New Zealand include graduating from Auckland University in 1974, could not be contacted.

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