Plight of Indian workers in Angola

Kendrapara: Tales of human misery being faced by hundreds of immigrant workers in Angola, South Africa have come to light as couple of immigrants from Kendrapara safely returned today to recount the ordeal.

With many of these skilled immigrants still holed up in a labour-unrest-hit cement plant, the family members are in a state of anxiety, official sources said.

"Two of them have safely returned. But many more immigrants are still waiting for their `home-coming` turn. We are trying our best to help those stranded in Angola", Pradipta Mohanty, district Labour officer (DLO) said.

"I am alive due to blessings of the God and parents. I had lost hopes that I would land in my motherland", narrated 28-year-old Abhiram Samal from Rajnagar`s Gobindapur village.

The traumatic experience began earlier this month. The cement plant thrived on Indian workforce. Of the 1800 workers, over 1,000 were of Indian origin. Indian workers were ill-treated and underpaid fomenting labour unrest. It was on April 9, Indian workers had gathered at the plant`s administrative office peacefully picketing for timely payment of wages and overtime dues in dollar, Samal recounted.

"I was there at the protest meeting. All on a sudden, the employers let loose armed police forces on the peaceful workers. There was rain of bullets. All of us ran for our lives. After virtually sprinting for nearly six kilo metres, we found ourselves in a dense forest. For two days, we wandered around the forest while exposing ourselves to the risk of wild animals? attack. We lived on wild fruits, roots and shrubs. We drank from a stream passing through the mountainous forest", Samal said. .

"After returning from the jungle, many were arrested by Angolan police and dumped in jail. Passports and visas were impounded. But I was lucky in the sense that I was spared from the tyrannical measures. I owe my gratitude to the Indian embassy officials who worked steadfastly to ensure our safe return. I was picked out from the list of stranded Indian workers. I was among the 46 Indians who returned following government`s prompt intervention," Samal said.

The Indian workers are employed in a cement factory at Sumbe in the southern African country and there had been labour unrest at the factory due to non-payment of wages and over-time emoluments due to them.

"As per our estimate, at least 14 migrant workers from Kendrapara are still in Sumbe about 600 KM from the Angolan capital city of Luanda. Only two immigrants from the district have safely returned at the Centre?s intervention. Nearly 120 Odia workers are understood to have got employed in the Sumbe cement plant, DLO Mohanty informed.

These migrant workforces had immigrated to Angola under Immigration Act, 1983 and Foreign Recruitment Act, 1872 through an authorised placement and recruitment agency.

Therefore, they are entitled for compensation benefits under immigration act. "We are submitting the list of workers who had migrated to Angolan cement plant from the district for benefit coverage," Mohanty said.

The crux of the problem is that these migrant workers do not come under Inter-state Migrant Workmen Act, 1979. "We have no administrative control over such things. The immigration wing of union external affairs ministry deals with this," Mohanty said.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Saturday sought the Centre`s immediate intervention into the alleged harassment of Odia workers in Angola and urged Union External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to take steps to ensure their return to the country safely.