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India to probe workers’ woes in Mississippi

New Delhi asks Washington embassy to investigate the reported plight of Indian shipyard workers in Mississippi, report Debasish Panigrahi & J Gandhi.
Hindustan Times | By Debasish Panigrahi & Jatin Gandhi, New Delhi/ Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2008 09:39 PM IST

Even as their Mumbai-based recruiters tried to wash their hands off workers protesting over inhuman living conditions in Pascagoula, Mississippi, Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi has written to the Indian ambassador in Washington to investigate the matter.

The minister’s letter comes after Hindustan Times reported on the plight of the 120-odd Indian workers on Saturday. “I’ve written to the ambassador,” Ravi said. “I’ve also asked him to send a team of officials to the shipyard.” Added Rahul Chhabra, Embassy of India spokesman in Washington: “We are ascertaining full details from our consulate in Houston, which is looking into the matter.”

Ravi said that the ministry would also issue a showcause notice to the recruiter who sent workers to work for Signal International. “We will take action.”

Dewan Consultants Pvt Ltd, the Mumbai-based recruiter for Signal International, distanced itself from the controversy saying its contract with the workers had ended last year.

“Our responsibility ended as soon as their probation period got over. Legally, we are not responsible for what happened afterward,” said Sachin Dewan, MD, Dewan Consultants Pvt Ltd.

He added: "If they found the living conditions unfit, they should have come back then, instead of making a hue and cry now." The probation period, according to Dewan, is six months after they were recruited in November 2006.

Pressed further, he admitted that he had to fly to the US in January last year after complaints of poor living standards at the rig site. "Yes, the living condition in the bunk-house which had been constructed for the workers was not proper. I appraised the company (Signal) of the worker's grievances and the issue was resolved then," he maintained.

He however, rubbished allegations made by workers that they had taken huge loans to pay his firm (for recruitment) by saying, "Its all wrong. Whatever we charged was as per the standards prevailing in the industry. I have nothing to say if they (workers) had paid for obtaining Green Cards or engaging lawyers for seeking further stay in the US."

Sachin said Mumbai-based Dewan consultants had obtained the contract for hiring around 400 workers-all welders and fitters-for Signal international from US-based human resources firm Global Resources in April 2006. "The candidates were selected by Signal through written tests at Chennai, Trivendrum and Vizag in November 2006. Afterwards the company arranged for their visas and took them to their rig in Mississippi," Sachin stated.

The recruits were promised salary ranging between $14 and $18, an hour. Simultaneously, they were offered H2B visa/permanent residence in the US, the realisation of the later was to be based on their performance.

(Inputs from Cooshalle Samuel)

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