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    US firm charged with mistreating Indian workers

    Washington: A US federal agency has filed a lawsuit against an Alabama based oil rig construction company for alleged demeaning treatment of 500 Indian immigrant workers recruited to work in Mississippi and Texas.

    Listing numerous complaints of discriminatory conduct by Signal International, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleges that Indian workers were forced to live in "substandard" accommodations and given "unwholesome" food, for which they were charged $35 daily.

    The complaint, filed Wednesday in Gulfport, Mississippi, also says the workers were lured into forced labour in Pascagoula, Mississippi and Orange, Texas, were subjected to hostile working conditions, and demeaned by being referred to by numbers instead of their names.

    Signal retaliated against at least two workers for opposing the alleged unlawful conduct, the EEOC said, alleging the company violated the rights of the Indian guest workers.

    Signal, a marine and fabrication company with shipyards in Mississippi, Texas and Alabama, is a subcontractor for several major multi-national firms.

    After hurricane Katrina scattered its workforce, Signal used the US government's guest worker programme to import employees to work as welders and pipefitters, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said.

    Between 2004 and 2006, hundreds of Indian workers paid Signal's recruiters as much as $20,000 each for travel, visa, recruitment and other fees after they were told it would lead to good jobs, green cards and permanent US residency.

    Many of the workers sold their houses and other valuables and took out high-interest loans to come up with the money, the ACLU said.

    When the men arrived at Signal in late 2006 and early 2007, they discovered that they would not receive the green cards as promised, but rather 10-month guest worker visas.

    "Signal forced them to pay $1,050 a month to live in crowded company housing in isolated, fenced labour camps where as many as 24 men shared a trailer with only two toilets," the ACLU said.

    Signal officials have denied any wrong doings.