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HindustanTimes Mon,21 Apr 2014

MEA finds US embassy underpaying Indian workers

Harinder Baweja, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, January 23, 2014
First Published: 18:45 IST(23/1/2014) | Last Updated: 00:25 IST(24/1/2014)

The ministry of external affairs has accessed work contracts of several Indians employed by the US embassy in Delhi and its consulates in Chennai and Hyderabad, HT has learnt. These employees have alleged that they are being ‘underpaid’ and ‘facing discrimination’.

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"After Devyani Khobragade made headlines, several Indians employed by the American embassy contacted us with their grievances," a top government official said, adding, "we are keeping the ammunition dry for future use." Accused of tax and visa fraud by teachers employed at the American school, the US could well also be charged with underpaying Indians on its rolls.

Khobragade, an Indian diplomat in the US, was charged for underpaying her maid and MEA officials believe that the employment contracts accessed by them point to the Indians being similarly underpaid. Importantly, the wages are not just lower than their American colleagues, but are well below salaries received by Indians employed by the Indian government.

Some employees are now trying to leverage the recent standoff between the two countries in the hope that the US embassy may address the issue. At least one of the four employees who have now approached the MEA has told the ministry that he has put in a complaint and is awaiting internal redressal.

Other Indians approached by HT said that they feel encouraged because the MEA has formally sought all contracts of Indians working in the US embassy.

"Earlier, the MEA was not willing to give us an audience. Many continue in the jobs because it is not easy to find another one," said an employee.

According to the contracts perused by HT, one official, hired as an assistant in the Chennai consulate is earning an annual net salary of Rs. 2.72 lakh. Employed in the grade of foreign service national 6/Step 2, this assistant is equivalent to section officers in the Indian Bureaucracy, who are paid around R5-6 lakh per annum.

Another employee, working at the Hyderabad consulate as an FSN 8/Step 3 official – equal in rank to a senior section officer – is similarly being paid Rs. 2.85 lakh per annum. The names of employees are being withheld as they have shared their wage contracts with the MEA on the promise of confidentiality.

MEA official spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told HT: "We have asked the US Embassy for contracts of all Indians employed by them but are yet to receive details even a month later."

At least two officials have told the MEA that they were discriminated against. One official, who is still employed by the US embassy, told the MEA that he has "filed a formal complaint".

Another official, Archana Srivastava, was appointed as political specialist by the US embassy in 2012. She does not mind being named because she is now in a battle with her former employers. According to Srivastava, she was "illegally confined and forced to sign a pre-drafted resignation letter and made to go home in a taxi."

She told HT, "Till 2013, I tried to meet the American ambassador and sent her and the US government several mails but never got a reply. I have now contacted the National Commission for Women. I am not a diplomat like Khobragade, so nobody is bothered." The NCW has written to the MEA, seeking their response.

In India, the US embassy and its consulates employ an approximate 1,000 people, ranging from security guards and cooks to senior consultants and advisors.

The US embassy refused comment when contacted by HT for a response to allegations of them underpaying Indians. An official spokesman said, ‘all such issues are being addressed through diplomatic channels".

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