VISAKHAPATNAM: The Ministry of External Affairs on Monday initiated steps to ensure the safe return to India of 24 labourers from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha who fled torture by their Saudi employer in Riyadh.
Responding to a report in the New Indian Express on Monday, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s private secretary Vijay P Dwivedi took up the issue with the Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia.
India’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ahmad Javed has contacted the victims and counselled them. Efforts are being made to obtain the details of the company, Aamal Al Muqawil Contracting Company (AMCO), which recruited them.
The workers — four from Telangana, 10 each from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh each — ran away from their company on April 6 and have been without food and shelter since then.
On Monday, New Indian Express spoke to the workers on the telephone. The workers, all trained in pipe-fitting and welding, said they went to Riyadh in December 2016 after being recruited through walk-in interviews at three institutes — Lakshmi Ganapathi Piping and Training Institute at Gajuwaka in Vizag, Lakshmi Narasimha Institute at Tekkali in Srikakulam district and Planet Tech ITIC Institute at Brahmapur in Odisha.
They were hired at a basic pay of 1500 riyals per eight-hour working day, with a promise of 6 riyals per hour for overtime.
But although the contracts said they were required to do pipe fitting and welding work, they were asked to do helpers' work since day one. After 15 days, the workers asked to be sent back to India but they were convinced to stay, said one of the workers, P Srinivas, a native of Telanagana.
They were initially promised free food and water but later told to make their own arrangements. The workers were scared to seek help from the Indian Embassy.
"We heard there were cases of labourers from Odisha being tortured by some companies. Our company too blackmailed us saying that the embassy would file cases and would not allow us to go back to India," Srinivas added.
The workers were made to work for 10 hours a day, and refused to pay for overtime. “Previously, I had worked with companies in Dubai and Iraq, but never faced such a pathetic situation,” Srinivas said.
Further, the workers alleged that no safety measures were followed at the work sites. "They made us work at great heights, but never did they provide us helmets or protective gear. I had severe pain as I was not used to the grinding work. After a week, they promised us medical help which never came. Unable to bear the pain, we repeatedly called the recruitment agents, who promised us to bring back us home after three months, but there was no response," Srinivas told New Indian Express.
Vexed, the workers finally ran away from the company in the early morning of April 6. "We contacted the embassy and they told us that we need to file a case in the Riyadh court. We do not have money for our food. Can we afford to file a court case?" Srinivas said.
A good Samaritan gave them shelter on Monday and the 24 workers were cramped together in a single room.