Indian trafficking victims take US employer, recruiters to court

March 10th, 2008 - 11:47 pm ICT by admin  

By Parveen Chopra
New York, March 10 (IANS) A lawsuit on behalf of about 500 Indian dock workers in the US has been filed, accusing their American employer and recruiters of human trafficking. The lawsuit against Signal International, a marine construction company, and the recruiters was filed late Friday in a US 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.

The 82-page complaint says that Signal along with American and Indian recruiters, Malvern Burnett and Dewan Consultants respectively, subjected over 500 Indian workers to forced labour, trafficking, fraud and civil rights violations.

The damages, workers’ lawyers believe, will run into tens of millions of dollars. Workers have demanded return of about $20,000 each they paid to the recruiters for green cards that they never received, and compensation.

About 100 of the Indians working at the Pascagoula shipyard in Mississippi quit Signal last week alleging human trafficking and inhuman working and living conditions.

Another 200 are still working under similar conditions at the shipyard.

Signal had brought about 500 workers over a year ago to work at the Pascagoula shipyard, and another facility in Texas.

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

US Congressman George Miller has demanded that the US Secretary of Labour investigate the case.

Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar 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.

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.

The workers, mainly welders and pipe-fitters, belong to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi, 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 them facing the constant threat of deportation.

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

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