77 Indian contractual workers stranded in Sri Lanka are "not being held captive", says the governmnent
The government has said that 77 contractual workers stranded in Sri Lanka are "not being held captive" but are caught in a labour dispute with the private steel company they work for.
"They're not being held captive, they're facing labour issues. I assure you we're in constant touch with the company and the men will be back in India within 24 to 48 hours," said External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
The families of the men - 44 from Bihar and the rest from across the country - have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging that the workers are being held "captive" in Sri Lankan capital Colombo by the steel company's management and sought his help in bringing them back to India.
The workers went to Colombo to work for the company, Bhuwalka Steel, in June last year. Last month, some of them called up their relatives and claimed they had not been paid in two months. Their passports and work visas had been confiscated by officials of the company, they said.
The workers also claimed that their employers threatened to get them arrested when they demanded the salary due to them.
"You can see how poor we are. We send our sons to work abroad so that we can improve our financial condition. How can we assume which company is good and which is not," said Suresh Gupta, father of a stranded labourer.
The workers have alleged that they were set stiff production targets that were impossible to meet given the poor condition of the company's machinery.
Mr Akbarruddin said Bhuwalka Steel is an Indian company and so under New Delhi's jurisdiction. The government is contemplating strict action against the company, said government sources, according to Press Trust of India.
Mr Akbarrudin had tweeted last night that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has talked to the Indian envoy in Colombo on the issue.