Indians Treated 'Like Pigs' in US
Over a hundred Indian workers at a shipyard in a small American town
on the Gulf of Mexico lodged a dramatic protest against inhuman living
and working conditions on Thursday, singing "We Shall Overcome", and
tossing their hard hats in the air.
The workers, hired from India in 2006 to tide over a labour shortage
in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that killed over 1,800 on the
Gulf coast in August 2005, said they were made to live "like pigs
in a cage" in a "work camp" run by their employer, marine fabrication
company Signal International, in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
The workers said an earlier attempt at protest had been ruthlessly
muzzled, prompting a worker to attempt suicide. The worker had been
sacked and police had been called in to control the situation. The
protesters said they had been lured with promises of permanent US
residency into a "human trafficking ring" run by Signal International.
Signal issued a statement denying the charges. But it said 500 workers
were recruited from India two years ago, after Katrina. The company
said it had sponsored the workers for H2B visas.
Hindustan Times spoke to Sabulal Vijayan, the 40-year-old pipe-fitter
who had been fired for organising the workers on the previous occasion.
He accused Signal of reducing the workers' already meagre pay by almost
a third, and described the conditions in which the Indians stayed
at the "camp".
"Initially, we were paid $18 a day and it was later reduced to 13,"
"Twenty-four of us stayed in one cramped dormitory that included our
beds, showers and water coolers. All of us had paid between Rs 6 lakh
and Rs 10 lakh to a Mumbai-based recruiter to get to the US. We were
all promised green cards," he added.
WLOX-TV, a local TV channel, which covered the protest widely, reported
that many workers had taken huge loans to raise the amount, and now
felt trapped. The channel quoted Saket Soni of the New Orleans Workers'
Center for Racial Justice, who served as an interpreter for the workers
at a press conference.
The channel quoted Vijayan as saying: "I slit my wrists to kill myself
(on the earlier occasion). There was no other option for me. Signal
was retaliating against me."
The workers were "trapped between an ocean of debt at home and constant
threats of deportation from our bosses in Mississippi", the channel
quoted Vijayan as saying.
Soni, 30, told Hindustan Times: "We will now demand that the US government
and the Department of Justice prosecute the company and recruiters
for the crime of human trafficking." He added that Signal International
was currently recruiting again in India, but this could not be independently
Soni said: "We will explore our legal options. But we have already
begun a campaign for prosecution of the company."
Signal said it had spent over $7 million to construct state-of-the-art
housing complexes for the workers, and was paying them "greater wages
than that they could earn in their home country".
The company said facilities and labour practices had been inspected
and approved by both the US Department of Labour and the Federal Immigration
and Customs Division.
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