Washington, Feb 22 (IANS) The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of over 500 guest workers brought from India by an American company to work in US shipyards after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The non-profit group has charged that the workers were trafficked into the US through the US government’s H-2B guest worker programme with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent US residents and subjected to squalid living conditions, fraudulent payment practices, and threats of serious harm upon their arrival.
The complaint alleges that recruiting agents hired by the marine industry company Signal International held the guest workers’ passports and visas, and coerced them into paying extraordinary fees for recruitment, immigration processing and travel.
They also threatened the workers with serious legal and physical harm if they did not work under the Signal-restricted guest worker visa, ACLU said in a statement.
The complaint also alleges that once in the US, the men were required to live in Signal’s guarded, overcrowded labour camps, subjected to psychological abuse and defrauded out of adequate payment for their work.
The ACLU charged that the federal government has fallen short of its responsibility to protect the rights of guest workers in the US.
According to the lawsuit, the treatment of the workers violates the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
The ACLU is co-counsel with the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the Asian American Legal Defence and Education Fund, the Louisiana Justice Institute, and the New Orleans Workers’ Centre for Racial in the suit filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in March 2008.
With shipyards in Mississippi, Texas and Alabama, Signal is a subcontractor for several major multinational companies.