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Indian workers protest 'slave-like' treatment by US firm

Jun 12, 2008 07:42 PM IST India India

Washington DC: Indian workers in the US are protesting against what they call modern-day slavery and they have a top American Congressman to support them. The workers want their employers convicted.

After a 29-day hunger strike, and protest rallies in Washington DC, the Indian workers have now won the backing of an influential lawmaker - Congressman and former Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

The workers have accused their former employer Signal International of treating them like slaves and are now demanding that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecute the Mississippi-based firm.

"We want people in this country and around the world to know that we stand by the principal of law and justice and when we do that you will see justice delivered for these workers," Kucinich said.

In an effort led by Kucinich, 18 lawmakers have written to the DOJ to investigate the workers' fraud accusations and offer them protection as victims.

The Justice Department confirmed last week that it has opened an investigation.

The workers mostly welders and pipe-fitters walked off their jobs earlier this year saying that Signal International lured them into the country with false promises of a US Green Card in exchange for a $20000 fee.

The workers claim that instead the company mistreated them, often forcing 24 men to share one trailer and threatened them with deportation.

Former Signal International employee Paul S Konar said, "We came to live here. We are not criminals. Whoever came here on the H2B visa had to work like a slave."

Signal International has denied the charges. The firm instead blames its American and a Mumbai-based recruiting company Dewan Associates for misleading the workers.

The Indian government has already suspended Dewan Associates' license.

The workers in Washington DC are now demanding that the DOJ must allow them to stay in the US while it investigates Signal International.