Striking Workers in Dire Condition

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Nov 19 2007

Kuwait Times- Monday, November 19, 2007

Report by Shruti Ganpathy

Kuwait- No food No amenities, no clothes only shelter. This is the story of 120 Indian workers who haven’t been paid for months. When they asked for their salaries, their employer refused. The contractors tell of previously being paid as little as KD 1.5 per month salary while the company they worked for made anywhere between KD10 -KD 20 per day per worker. Living in the closed confines of their hideout, fearing they'll be deported if caught on the streets by the cops, the 120 workers have reached the point of living each day only to survive. The men, who worked as electricians, plumbers, cleaners, construction builders are in hiding and living illegally in Kuwait. Many of them have expired civil ID's. Many don’t even have that.

Their troubles began in late October when the group held a strike in front of the Palace of Justice protesting the lack of payment and ill treatment.

The men who worked for a local Kuwaiti contracting company since 2004 have been paid irregularly since the beginning. When they tried to strike in 2005 their leaders were arrested and deported creating and environment of fear. In the interim, the company officials told employees that the company was running at a loss and therefore could not pay salaries.

They were spotted protesting outside the Palace o Justice by a Lawyer Naser Bader Al Mutairy who has now filed two separate cases on their behalf one to receive the delayed salaries and the other for their passports which are currently being held by the employer. Both cases are due to be heard in December- the case for pending salaries will first be heard at the ministry of social affairs and labor. If undecided it will then be heard at the palace of Justice.

After the strike the men were forced to leave their work premises without even their belongings, and their constant appeals to the Indian High Commission for help went unheard until a well placed Indian intervened. The intervention got them KD 500 grant from the Indian Embassy, to survive until a legal decision is made in the case.

Suresh hailing from Podukottai in India, who was not even given his passport to go back, home for his Mother’s funeral said:" My mother was a very important person in my life. And I feel really bad I could not be there when she died. I was not even allowed to attend the funeral and that’s what really upsets me." Suresh is not the only one with such an experience, Subramanian, only barely managed to reach for his wife's funeral: "The Company was not willing to spare me to go home to finish my wife's funeral. Finally after a lot of persuasion they released but did not even pay for my air ticket. It was the contribution from my colleagues that helped me go home and give my wife a dignified farewell."

These workers when being recruited from India where asked to pay KD 350 and were promised a lot of work in return. Although they have been given work here they have not been paid for it. The companies they were being contracted to are willing to employ them directly but as the case is in court this is possible only after the court decision.

The men's lawyer, Al Mutairy said:" the Company lawyers have been in touch with me and have promised to let them have their things." When questioned about the reasons for helping them, Bader said: “This is not the first of such cases that is happening in Kuwait. Their plight is the plight of many people who are brought here under false promises and then left to their fate. If we do some thing now then probably we can help many more from facing a similar situation.”

In the midst of all this two regional associations, the Kuwait Tamil Sangam and the Kannur association have stepped in to make sure that these people have food, clothes and their basic amenities. President of Kuwait Tamil Sangam, R. Ganpathy and Secretary S. Chelladurai said:" We don’t know much about the dispute as we have heard only one side and since the matter is sub Justice we cannot offer any comment. However there are 120 people without shelter, food and even clothes and with no access to their personal belonging in an alien country. So more than anything else it is a humanitarian issue. And the Kuwait Tamil Sangam is extending all possible assistance within our means to help these persons live in Kuwait in a dignified manner till the courts give their verdict."

This is an excerpt from the Kuwait time’s article.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East