Indian trafficking victims file lawsuit against US employer

March 10th, 2008 - 11:02 pm ICT by admin  

By Parveen Chopra
New York, March 10 (IANS) A group of Indian dock workers in Mississippi, who claim to be victims of a human trafficking racket, have filed a class action lawsuit against their US employer. The lawsuit against Signal International, a marine construction company, was filed late Friday in the federal court in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was confirmed Monday to IANS by Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers’ Centre for Racial Justice, which is helping the workers.

Over 100 Indian workers at the Pascagoula shipyard quit Signal last week alleging human trafficking by Signal and Dewan Consultants, the recruiter in Mumbai.

They said they had paid recruiters up to $20,000 to come to the US on H2B visas meant for temporary workers. They also alleged inhuman working and living conditions.

The workers have been holding meetings in New Orleans, where Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi called them up, promising all help.

The workers demand that the US to prosecute Signal for human trafficking and that the Indian government punish recruiter Sachin Dewan and to stop him and his associates from contacting their families in India and intimidating them.

Ravi has written to the Indian ambassador in the US, Ronen Sen, to investigate the matter and said his ministry would also issue a show-cause notice to Dewan.

The workers have thanked Ravi for his support and are inviting Ambassador Sen to New Orleans for a meeting.

Signal has denied the charges in a statement claiming it spent over $7 million to house the workers.

Dewan Consultants has distanced itself from the controversy, saying its contract with the workers ended last year.

Besides those who quit, 200 other Indians are still working under similar conditions at the Pascagoula shipyard.

The workers, mainly welders and pipe-fitters, belong to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi and were lured with promises of green cards to agree to come as guest workers to meet the labour shortage in the region caused by the Katrina Hurricane.

The nature of their visas prevented them from working for any other company, leaving the constant threat of deportation hanging over their heads.

There are reports that Signal is now recruiting fresh Indian workers through the Mumbai recruiter S. Mansur & Company.

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