Bhubaneswar: Aide et Action and International voluntary development organisation came to know from social media that 9 Indian citizens are stranded on the streets of Colombo in Sri Lanka since December 01, 2021. They worked at a steel plant of the Bhuwalka Premier Group of Companies in Sri Lanka and had to leave due to harsh working conditions and breach of promised wages. The workers have no money, food or accommodation and require immediate food, shelter, medical assistance and travel support to return to India.
The following information has been collected by the team through direct communication with five of the workers, Mr. Bikram Sahu, Mr. Gupta Prasad Sahoo, Mr. Balikran, Mr. Ranjan Nayak and Mr. Munna Mandal.
Through Mr. Sudarshan Das, a friend of one of the workers, seven of them came from Odisha, India to Bangalore, India to attend the job interview for Bhuwalka Steel Industries. Reportedly, they were then made to sign an employment contract in English with unknown terms and then taken to Chennai Airport in Tamil Nadu, India. Immediately on their arrival in Sri Lanka their documents and Passports were taken into custody by Mr. Kamal- supervisor at factory. Seven of them arrived in Sri Lanka in March 2021 while Mr. Ranjan Nayak arrived in October 2021. Mr. Balikran arrived in February 2020 in similar circumstances.
The workers allege that the wages given to them were grossly lesser than promised. According to them, an amount of 3000-4000 Sri Lankan Rupee was provided for food per month which barely lasted for 15 days and they often went hungry. The workers reported that, during this period, they were also made to work for 15 or more hours per day without overtime compensation, without access to mobile phones or opportunity to go outside factory premises. Further, Mr. Balikran, the only worker from Uttar Pradesh who came in 2020, is currently in possession of his Passport but was informed by the Airport authorities that he requires a court order to travel back due to a pending case of last year. Mr. Balikran does not have much knowledge or any documents about the same except that he remembers spending two days in jail hence also requires legal aid for the matter.
They have been complaining about their employment condition and have been requesting to allow them to for return to India since September 2021. Since their repeated requests were turned down, they had to leave the premises on December 01, 2021 to seek help of the Embassy. On December 07, 2021, officials from the Indian Embassy as well as two representatives of the company contacted them to expedite the process. However, as the report, the next day, on December 8, 2021, an official from the Embassy informed them that, since they have violated the contract terms of two years of employment, they will not be paid any dues but their Passports shall be returned soon. According to the officials, the workers were dismissed when they went out together at their will. Mr. Kamal allegedly threatened that the workers cannot win a fight against a powerful company like theirs.
Since December 01, 2021 all the nine workers have been living on the footpath or at the beach and during the night receive support from a local lodge owner to sleep. They do not even have money to buy food and two of the workers apparently have fallen sick and running fever and are in grave emotional distress. On December 9, seven workers except Mr. Ranjan Nayak received their passports but the company refused to pay the due wages as well as return flight charges. The workers require immediate support to return to India. The workers on a daily basis visit the Indian High Commission and are in touch with the officials. As informed by the workers, twice they were provided cash assistance of LKR 4000 by the Indian Embassy (last received on December 07, 2021), which they have exhausted, despite they eating only once a day.
The migration thematic unit of Aide et Action based at Bhubaneswar Odisha shared the matter to its Office at Colombo for immediate intervention and support to the distressed migrant workers. Mr. Ravi Pratap Singh who the regional director of the organisation based at Colombo intervened and stressed out the people who were in fear and helpless. He made immediate support of food, cloth and himself provided counselling to the victims. Further he coordinated with the Embassy in making their legal documents, recovering pending wages from the company and rescued another 2 persons from the company who were in similar situation. All the process took more than a week and finally Mr. Singh send the people to India with all arrangement. The team of Aide et Action received the people at Chennai Airport and after following all process sent them to Odisha in train. Odisha team of the organisation received the people at Berhampur railway station today at 3 PM and sent them to home. Government representative from the district also presented at railway station after getting the information from the tweet of Mr. Umi Daniel, Director- Migration & Education of Aide et Action. Further Organisation will take care of their rehabilitation and linking with social protection scheme, Said Mr. Daniel.