Dues deadlock puts 20 Lankan workers' dream on hold

SHARJAH - The agonising wait to return home and reunite with their loved ones seems a distant dream for the stranded Sri Lankan workers of Moon Garments factory in Sharjah, living in misery for the last three months with no basic amenities and sufficient food, while its Bangladeshi factory owner continues to delay the settlement of dues under one pretext, or another.

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Published: Thu 29 Jul 2004, 11:49 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:49 PM

Some 15 workers were repatriated to Colombo last week after the local Sri Lankan employment agent volunteered to pay for their air tickets.

But for the 20 girls, still awaiting their settlement of dues agreed at Dh1,000 for each worker, returning home seems to be far away. Most of these girls can leave the country, provided their overstay fines are settled either by the factory owner or the Sri Lankan Consulate, and that the owner agrees to cancel their visa after settlement of the dues.

Currently, in an absolute helpless state, the girls hope the Consulate and the local authorities, including the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, will come to their rescue and break the deadlock.

The Sri Lankan Consulate in Dubai which has been extending all possible assistance to the girls by supplying them with food and temporary restoration of electricity and water connection to their rooms on the factory premises, as well as coordinating with the officials of the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) and local employment agent to assist in their repatriation, is uncertain on the future course of action.

"How much more can we do?" P.D Fernanado, Sri Lankan Consul-General in Dubai, said, referring to the situation as 'grave' and blaming the factory owner for giving a new story each day, in an attempt to delay the settlement of dues of the poor workers.

Mr Fernando explained that the mission was doing its best to resolve the problem. "But, it is the duty of the factory owner to have settled their dues early, and repatriate them home rather than forcing the girls to overstay in the country."

He disclosed that the mission's constant effort to extend necessary assistance to the stranded workers has resulted in the owner washing his hands off all his liability and simply passing it on the Sri Lankan Consulate.

The girls, who pleaded to the Sharjah government and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to come to their rescue and help in their repatriation, told Khaleej Times, "We want to return home."

"The electricity and water supplies to our accommodation has been disconnected once again. Besides, we have no food for the last two days. Under the circumstances, it is very difficult to survive," Nalini, a worker said.

Another worker controlling her tears said:" We don't know what to do now, but can just pray for the nightmare to end soon."

The workers alleged that the factory owner purchased a new car for himself recently, "but has no money to settle our dues which is peanuts."

Meanwhile, a consulate official who visited the factory yesterday along with the Sri Lankan employment agent said the factory owner had promised to meet us to settle the dues. "But, once again he gave us the slip."

"The factory owner has been promising to settle the dues, but on some pretext or another does not keep up with his commitment, unnecessarily delaying the settlement further," the official complained.

However, the factory owner when contacted by the newspaper blamed the delay of settlement of the workers dues to the delay on the part of the Sri Lankan Consulate for not clearing the overstay fines of the girls.

He stated that the consulate had agreed to settle the fines with the immigration authorities, following which he would pay off the girls and cancel their visas.

Over a hundred garment factory workers including 34 Sri Lankans and 56 Bangladeshi nationals, were stranded, following closure of Sharjah-based Moon Garment factory in May, and failure of non-payment of salary to the workers for over seven months.

The factory located in the Sharjah Industrial Area shut down early May, 2004, following the arrest of its owner, a Bangladeshi national, who was booked by the police for a number of dud cheque cases recently, leaving the employees in an appalling state of misery and uncertainty.

While, the Bangladeshi workers joined other garment factories seeking their release, Sri Lankan workers insisted on returning home with their dues.

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