Indians protest slave-like working conditions in US

They are being forced to pay $35 per day to live in a sparse company-owned camp.
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Updated on Mar 17, 2007 12:10 PM IST
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PTI | By, Silicon Valley

Hundreds of Indian immigrant workers working for a large corporation that repairs and services oil drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, have alleged "slave-like" working conditions and begun a protest against them.

However, the corporation - Signal - denied the allegations, terming them as a "fabricated lie".

According New America Media (NAM), Signal recruited 300 workers from India in December to work in its Mississippi yard, and another 300 to work in two yards in Texas.

The workers came under the H2B visa program, also known as a "guest worker" programme.

Workers were promised skilled positions at $18 per hour and were forced to pay thousands of dollars to the company's recruiter in order to make the trip.

Many sold their homes in order to cover the fee, the report said.

But upon arrival, the company paid them half of what was promised, arbitrarily reclassifying their skills, and forced them to pay $35 per day to live in a sparse company-owned labour camp, NAM alleged.

When the workers sought to change the situation or get compensation from the company, Signal announced that it would suspend their visas and force them to return to India.

According to Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, "they were hired in India by a labor recruiter sent by Signal.

They had to pay exorbitant amounts to the company, to the recruiter and to the attorney who did the labour certification for them."

In a statement to local immigrants rights advocates, representatives of the workers said, "We paid money to a US lawyer working on behalf of the company and to Indian recruiters.

We have proof of this payment. We all sold our property and our houses to come and work for Signal."

"In India we were promised that we will be getting green cards and permanent residency. This was not true. We were given temporary H2B visas which expire on July 31, 2007.

We have been treated like animals here. We do not know if we will be extended on a new visa. We cannot recover the money we have spent on the visa in less than two years," it said.

The company denied the allegations with Ron Schnoor, Signal's Pascagoula-based senior vice president and general manager, saying claims of workplace violations and abuse by his company were "absolutely a fabricated lie", generated by "disgruntled workers".

Schnoor told the Los Angeles Times newspaper that at least 10 per cent of the 300 Indians his company hired on H-2B visas did not have the "first class" welding and fitting skills they claimed to have on their applications.

"They falsified their credentials," Schnoor said.

The company had to demote some workers to lower-paying jobs in line with their qualifications, he said, and fire unskilled laborers for whom alternate positions could not be found.

"There is no servitude here, or all the other horse crap that people are asserting," he said.

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