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Unpaid workers blame firm for prolonging agony

Uncancelled visas remain stumbling block despite labour court settlement

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: A group of construction workers of various Asian nationalities — 106 in all — whose residence visas expired months ago claim they are unable to return home because their employer has not cancelled their visa.

The workers’ visas expired between January and March this year. They said they agreed last month for a compromise in the labour court to accept a lower amount than the settlement they were entitled to given that their company is in financial trouble. The workers had earlier complained that they were owed two months’ salaries.

Showing court orders in favour of each individual worker, one of the workers said: “We unhappily accepted this smaller amount from the company to go back home at the earliest. Although the company paid the money, they did not yet cancel our visa; so we are still stuck here.”

A court order dated September 16 in favour of an Indian worker showed that the labour court had ruled that he was entitled to a final settlement of Dh6,526 and the cost of a flight ticket and legal fees from STS Abu Dhabi Electro-Mechanical LLC but the worker had agreed to accept Dh4,908 inclusive of the cost of flight ticket and legal fees.

The aggrieved workers said they had been hired as plumbers, electricians, helpers, etc by the firm and earned monthly salaries ranging between Dh900 and Dh1,500 including overtime pay. They said the final settlement had taken into account the gratuity and two months’ salary arrears but they were forced to spend a big share of that money on settling accumulated food bills of several months.

“We purchase groceries from a store in the labour accommodation and cook the food ourselves. But we don’t know how to find money for daily survival here and flight ticket to go back home if the visa cancellation is delayed further,” one of the men said.

Mohammad Awwad, area manager of the company, told Gulf News that the organisation is sympathetic towards the workers plight but is finding it difficult to clear the massive fines it is facing for the period the workers overstayed after the expiry of their visas. “We are trying hard to collect dues from our clients to repatriate the workers.”

Awwad said that the company was a subcontractor in a major construction project but had not been paid by the main contractor. “The client [the company for which project is being built] has not fully paid the main contractor, so we have approached them to get at least a portion of our dues directly from them,” he explained.

“If it works, we will try to help the workers with some more money for their flight tickets and food expenses until they leave; but I can’t commit any time-frame,” the manager explained.

Meanwhile, 39 Indian workers have approached the their embassy for help. The embassy officials said they are negotiating with the company to repatriate the workers at the earliest.