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Mississippi protest: Indians sue American employer

Mar 28, 2008 08:00 AM IST India India
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Washington: After marching through five US cities, protesting Indian workers reached the Indian Embassy in Washington DC with personal stories of abuse.

The workers, mostly welders and pipe-fitters, allege their American employer Signal International lured them into the country with promises of a US Green Card and permanent residency in exchange for a $20,000 fee.

The workers claim that instead they received only a 10-month work visa and the company treated them like slaves, often forcing 24 men to share one trailer.

Says a former Signal employee, Hemant Khuttan, “When we asked the company about this they said shut up and sit down otherwise we'll deport you to India. We know the conditions in India are worse than this. When we said can we live outside the man camp they said yes but you still have to pay $1050 per month because we build this camp for you."

Signal International has denied the charges of abuse. In a statement, CEO Richard Marler instead blamed the recruiting company, saying, "Signal International put its trust in the wrong people. The company has always treated its employees with honesty, dignity and respect."

The Indian embassy has promised help to the protesting workers.

“Despite the fact that we have a system in place, there will always be unscrupulous middle men and agents. And by coming and talking to us you are helping us make the system stronger so that this doesn't happen to others,” said Indian ambassador Ronen Sen

With the help of American NGOs, the workers have filed a lawsuit against Signal International accusing the company of fraud and human trafficking.

The workers have taken refuge in a local DC church. They will spend the next week in Washington DC lobbying Indian and American lawmakers.

They have two main demands - that Signal International be barred from bringing over any more international workers into the country and that India and US revamp the guest worker program to protect workers from exploitation.

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