Unpaid Indian workers fight for survival in UAE labour camp
Abu Dhabi - The workers have not been paid for 10 months; they are looking towards their country and Minister Sushma Swaraj for help.
Many workers have been stuck in a quandary at a labour camp in Abu Dhabi's Mussafah.
As many as 25 workers, mostly Indians, with Legend Project Contracting LLC haven't been paid for more than 10 months and are struggling to survive.
The contracting firm is part of the Legend Project Group which is run by Syrian Abdul Mateen Alali, the general manager of the company. The company, according to workers, doesn't have any new project since March and won't even return their passports.
It is noteworthy that the validity of visa of most workers has expired and they fear that that would result in them getting heavily fined after they get their passports because of their failure to renew their visa.
Six Indian workers spoke to Khaleej Times about their ordeal.
They are - Nand Kishor Prasad, Dilip Singh, Udit Narayan Gupta, Ravinder Kumar Shah, Brijeesh Tiwari and Nagendra Singh.
Most are working with this firm for two to three years.
Hari Shankar Singh, who died due to a heart-attack, last month was their colleague. The company didn't bother to fund his repatriation process and also forgot to pay him his pending dues.
"When a dead hasn't been offered his dues then what expectations can we foster," asks Nand Kishor Prasad.
Commenting on the ordeal, from where their UAE dreams started to go wrong, he said, "The company had no work for some time.
"When we asked them to send us back, they told us since we were on a Dubai visa, they will change it to Abu Dhabi visa as we were working here. They said this will help us return back to India easily. They took our resident identity cards too and made us sign papers saying that those were to transfer our visa from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.
"They got our visas cancelled and then we haven't heard from the company. Visas of three of us got expired last year itself."
The workers added that for the past few months they didn't have any work but they are 'ordered' by the company not to leave their Mussafah 43 camp.
"Neither work nor respite. We are stuck here. Get us out of here," Prasad pleads.
"We are all labourers. I used to get Dh1,700 and others Dh1,300. Our salaries are pending from last October. But we told the company that we don't want money - just return our passports and clear our visa dues.
"We just want to return home to our family," the workers say that Abdul Mateen Alali is the one who runs everything.
According to the workers, Alali 'assures' them that 'everything will be alright'.
"The Syrian is under a huge debt and he may have actually returned back to his country, which is why we went to court, they said.
"In January, we went to Mussafah Labour Court but were told since our visa is stamped from Dubai, we need to fight case there, so we went to Dubai Labour Court in Al Qusais. We were given the first hearing date for March. The case was later moved to the High Court. The company representative is yet to turn up in court. We have next hearing this month," Prasad says.
"Our head office (Project Contracting) is in Abu Dhabi. The court told us that the company is registered as an Al Quoz, Dubai, firm. Maybe the company has licence issued in same name from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Also, we called the Indian Workers' Resource Centre (IWRC) and registered a complaint against the company.
Also read: Indian worker's body stuck in Abu Dhabi mortuary for 19 days
"Following this, the company told us they will not pay us anything. They asked us if we are willing to go home empty-hand. We agreed to this but still no reprieve," Prasad added.
"We had to do a lot of running to get Hari Shankar's passport. It was after a week of pleading that the company finally released his passport and we were able to send the body back on the 20th day," Prasad adds.
Dilip Singh has lost all hopes of returning to India: "We are being taken for a ride since last one year. The company would say in few days everything will be alright. But then days turned into weeks and then into months and we are still waiting for our passports to escape out.
"The Indian Workers' Resource Centre told us that since we have gone to court now we have to wait for the verdict," Dilip Singh said.
"There are some 22-25 people with this project. We were seven Indians, one died in the camp. There are 8-10 people from Pakistan too. They told they will send everyone together. Every week they call and give us new hope. Now we have stopped believing in anything. One of us have died the same fate awaits us too," Singh adds.
"My three-year-old asks when I will come back. What can I tell her? I am just happy to be alive."
According to the workers, the company has sold all its machinery, vehicles and almost everything. They have a PRO and an accountant left here. They too are Syrians. They take our calls once in a while.
"We don't know who the Emirati owner of this company is. We just know there is one man at the top," Prasad says.
"Then they told us that company's license renewal is due and after that they will send us back. The UAE government shouldn't give licenses to such firms," he complained.
"We have been doing the rounds of court for some time and have seen at least 40,000 people stuck in such mess. We are tired running around.
"I pleaded with the judge to get us our passports back. But we were told to get our visa renewed. Most of us have been in the Gulf for long but have come across such a company for the first time," Prasad further added.
The workers are exhausted by this ordeal thus far.
"We all have families back home who are solely dependent on us. When we don't have any money to eat what are we going to send back home," asks Brijeesh Tiwari.
"We had stayed hungry for days and when we feel that we may die, we beg others for some rice, which all of us share. We don't have our resident card, health insurance card, our visas have expired, no passport, no job and no money. Once in a while some of us do odd jobs and get Dh10-50. Once we have enough to survive a week, we stay put in the camp. We have to stay alive to fight court cases and the company," Tiwari adds.
"If we fall sick we can't go to hospitals too. There are many social organisations who have helped us with food. People mock us that such a healthy man is begging for money and food, since I look healthy," he said.
"The company told us to wait but didn't tell us how to survive without money. The restaurants have helped us with food but we have to pay them back. They fed us for four months. We don't know how our families are surviving. Our fines for visa renewals are mounting," he adds.
Another labourer, Ravinder Kumar is hoping that the Indian government can step in as done in Saudi Arabia.
"We have big expectations from the UAE government and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. I have heard she can solve cases on twitter itself.
"The Indian government has sent Indian Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh to Saudi Arabia. Hopefully someone will hear our pleas.
"When family asks me when I will return, I tell them only God knows. And now one of us (Hari Shankar) is with him now," Kumar says.
The workers had approached the Indian embassy but were told to get in touch with the Dubai consulate as they have a visa stamped from Dubai. The helpless workers are awaiting an end to their misery.
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