Asia / Oceania
More than 1,000 Indian workers held hostage for taking strike action
May, 15 2012
Captive in Angola: More than 1,000 Indian workers held hostage for taking strike action.
(India) -- One thousand-odd youths from Punjab, Haryana and many other states are stranded in Sumbe, Angola, and can't return home as their travel documents have allegedly been confiscated by the multinational company they work for.
Uncertainty looms over the labourers' fate, who work in a cement factory in Sumbe.
Though the Indian embassy in Angola claims to be working to resolve the issue, none of its officials has met the helpless workers. Manjinder Singh (name changed on request) revealed he was among more than 1,000 Indians who were hired by ETA Star International to work in a cement factory near Sumbe, the administrative capital of Cuanza Sul Province in west central Angola.
These youths have allegedly been kept hostage after they went on a strike four days ago, demanding that the company release their wages.
The firm also allegedly resorted to high-handed means, calling the police who are said to have arrested some of the youths. The workers at Sumbe - who were in touch with Mail Today for about a week - said the police had fired nearly 200-300 bullets along with tear gas shells on the agitating youths to disperse them.
One of the workers who's from Mangalore - N.C. Vijaykumar - was injured in the firing.
'Vijaykumar was injured in the firing and he is still awaiting proper medical care. He has sustained an injury in his leg,' one of the labourers said.
He added that about three dozen men were arrested by the police and left starving for a week.
The father of one of the stranded youths, who's from Punjab's Gurdaspur area, said he had called them up two days ago and narrated the trouble he was in.
'We have approached former MP Balwant Singh Ramuwalia for help,' he said. Ramuwalia - who takes up issues relating to immigration and employment of the youth of Punjab - said he will pursue the matter with the ministry of overseas Indian affairs.
Another youth - who took shelter in a forest after the police firing on the workers - said ETA Star International brought them to Angola on contract.
'The company has not paid us remuneration since February 2012. We are meeting our expenses only by overtime payments. We struck work for about a month. Some government officials visited the site and assured us that the wages would be paid on May 10.
'But nothing has happened till date,' he said.
The worker said the company had promised them to pay in the U.S. currency, 'but, now they are offering to pay in Kwanza, the local currency of Angola'.
Col A.K. Singh, the person responsible for recruiting workers for the Angolan factory, attempted to wash his hands off the issue, claiming that he was on leave.
'I just came in. I am having my tea at the moment and I am not aware of any problem in Angola,' he said.
ETA Star International's Dubai corporate office manager Rafiq Jeelani told Mail Today over the phone that the company pays overtime to workers at the site in the U.S. currency.
'The problem started in February 2012 over payment of overtime at site. The banks stopped issuing dollars and there was a shortage of the U.S. currency.
'The workers are demanding the overtime payment in dollars only. Because of the scarcity of dollars, the company offered to pay part of it in the U.S. currency and the balance in Kwanza,' he said.
'Their strike is illegal and defies their undertaking before joining to this project,' Jeelani claimed.
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