Families of Indian workers in US join hands to get justice

March 15th, 2008 - 4:23 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, March 15 (IANS) The families of the Indian workers who have accused a US marine construction company of human trafficking are trying to come together to put pressure on the Indian government to take more action in the matter. An activist for the Indian workers, based in India and coordinating with the American volunteer groups, said that the families here have been trying to meet Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi but have not got much response.

“We approached the minister’s office on Monday so that some of the families could tell the minister their side of the story. We have learnt through media reports that the US company official has already met with MOIA officials,” Anannya Bhattacharjee, international organiser, Jobs for Justice, told IANS here.

According to Bhattacharjee, the ministry also needs to look into the broader issue of trafficking and the role of recruiting agents.

On March 6, over 100 workers from India had walked out of the headquarters of US marine fabrication company Signal International over poor working conditions. The workers who were brought on H2B guest worker visa of eight months were angry as they were promised permanent residency status or green card by the recruiters for employment, for which they had to pay up about Rs.900,000 each.

Vayalar Ravi said he was ready to listen to the plight of the workers anytime. “We have to listen to their version too,” Ravi told IANS.

The minister was responding to claims by the Indian workers in the US that they were not being given a fair hearing by the Indian government while authorities were meeting a representative of Signal International instead.

In Kerala, Pradeep Vijayan, brother of one of the leaders of the agitation, Sabulal Vijayan, was also hoping to get an appointment with the minister during his weekend visit down south. “We are not looking for compensation. We want the promise made during recruitment being fulfilled,” Vijayan told IANS.

He said that the workers in the US were coordinating to mobilise their families to get together in India to act as an effective lobby. “There are nearly 80-90 families in Kerala, and the workers are asking them from the US to get together. Probably we will come together before the media next week,” Vijayan said.

Ravi had called up the agitating workers in the US last week, assuring them of all help. The Indian government also suspended the licences of two Mumbai-based recruiting agents, Dewan Consultants and S. Mansur and company.

The workers, supported by Southern Poverty Law Centre, New Orleans Workers Centre for Racial Justice and Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity, have filed a class action lawsuit against Signal and its US and Indian manpower suppliers.

The workers are unhappy that Indian Ambassador to US Ronen Sen has not met them yet, though a two-member team from the embassy had been sent on Wednesday to listen to their grievances.

The general manager of Signal International, Darrell Snyder, who was here in connection with recruiting another batch of workers, met the Mumbai Protector of Emigrants. He reportedly asserted that Signal had not made any promise of permanent residency for the employees. The assertion was angrily rubbished by the Indian workers.

Nearly 100 workers escaped from the Signal shipyard in Pascagoula and reported the trafficking to the US Department of Justice last week.

The workers were unhappy with the poor living conditions, as up to two dozen of them were bunched into a single dormitory and expenses on food and electricity were deducted from their salaries. The workers were also angry that the recruiters had charged them Rs.600,000-900,000 as commission on the promise that they would get long-term employment or green card.

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