Exploited Indian workers to meet envoy Thursday

March 27th, 2008 - 11:18 am ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 27 (IANS) A group of Indian workers alleging exploitation at a US shipyard has arrived here to meet Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen and demand concrete steps to end abuses in the H2B guest worker programme. About 100 workers, who quit Signal International’s shipyard in Mississippi after alleging maltreatment, reached here after an eight-day “journey for justice” from New Orleans to Washington to protest the Indian government’s alleged failure to protect them.

They plan to hold a mass meeting with Sen Thursday and remain in the US capital for another seven days, during which they hope to meet key Congressional decision-makers on labour and immigration policy, the march organisers said.

“We made this satyagraha (action for truth) to Washington, DC, to put an end to this system of modern-day slavery,” said Sabulal Vijayan, a former Signal worker and organiser from the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity.

“We were brave enough to break a major trafficking racket. We marched beyond secret surveillance by immigration. Now we will demand Ambassador Sen’s help to initiate high-level talks between the US and Indian governments to protect future workers from our fate.”

Vijayan is one of over 500 Indian welders and pipe fitters who allegedly paid about $20,000 each to US and Indian recruiters for false promises of permanent residency in the US. They were instead held in forced labour on ten-month temporary H2B guest worker visas in Gulf Coast shipyards under deplorable conditions.

The Department of Justice has opened a human trafficking investigation into the case, and US Congressman George Miller has demanded detailed documentation about the case from Secretary of Labour Elaine Chao.

The ranks of the workers’ allies and supporters have surged during the eight-day journey, and now include several civil rights leaders, the organisers said.

“The attempts to intimidate human trafficking survivors as they have walked in the footsteps of US freedom fighters have failed,” said New Orleans Workers’ Centre for Racial Justice director Saket Soni.

“… we will demand that Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen take the epidemic of labour trafficking seriously, and help workers and advocates unmask the US federal guest worker programme as a legalised form of servitude.”

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