13/08/2020 No pay for 5 months, passports withheld: Indians stranded in Kuwait plead for help | The News Minute   88 men were employed as carpenters, steel- xers, plumbers, masons and labourers. They were last paid this February. The Between March and May, as Kuwait went into lockdown, the men continued working. Every day, they woke up before dawn and got driven to a construction site, where they shovelled dirt, laid bricks, shaped steel bars and painted walls for 12 hours. When the workers enquired about their wages, the company kept putting it off. Pramod Gopalan, a labourer from Palakkad, Kerala, said, “They kept saying, ‘go to work, go to work, we will pay you’. Every time, it was the same story. We asked for a speci c date. But the company never told us when we would be paid.” In April, the company cut the water supply to their dormitories. “We then requested a tanker delivery man, who is from Kerala, to supply us with water one time a day. Since then, we have been dependent on this tanker supply. But it is not suf cient for all of us,” said Pramod. Over two out of every three people in Kuwait are foreigners. Plagued by falling oil revenue and an economic slowdown due to the pandemic, Kuwait’s economy - like everywhere - has slumped. Kuwait is now on the cusp of approving legislation that would drastically reduce the number of foreigners in the country. If approved, the law could force some 800,000 Indians in Kuwait – who comprise about 1.45 million people – to go home. The anti-migrant rhetoric has increased during the pandemic, with members of parliament and a Kuwaiti female actor calling for workers to be deported. In March, actor Hayat-Al-Fahad accused migrants of depriving the locals of hospital beds during the pandemic, and wanted workers thrown out “in the desert”. In early June, after three months of wage arrears and no stipend to buy provisions, the 88 men stopped working in protest. “This is when the threats started,” said Sathish.  “A labour manager at Al-Raqeeb said what can we achieve here in Kuwait. He said they will kick us around like a football. ‘What will you do?’ he asked us,” said Sathish.  Under the kafala system, a labour sponsorship system in the Gulf, with notable variations in each of the states, a worker must have a sponsoring employer and a speci c job – neither of which can be changed easily. Angry and frustrated, in mid-June, the men approached the Public Authority of Manpower, Kuwait’s labour complaints department. “We didn’t completely understand what was going on, because everything was in Arabic. At the ministry, labour of cers called and spoke in person to the company representatives. But the company denied that we were owed any wages at all,” Sathish said. Not convinced that their complaint would be resolved, the 88 men sat outside the department of ces, on a broad pavement in the sun, asking for their wages and ight tickets back home.  Meanwhile, the workers learnt that Al-Raqeeb company cut the electricity supply to their dormitories. Yet, they continued to raise their demand for their wages, until midnight. At 2 am the next morning, they were picked up by police and were taken to the station. In the morning, when the workers explained that the company had cut off their electricity, the cops had it restored. Since then, the employer has not contacted the workers. “The company has not taken any measures to protect us from COVID-19; not even masks. We are now receiving food and other ration from social workers,” said Pramod.  On July 15, nearly a month later, the men submitted a letter to the Jleeb police station in Kuwait, about the payment of their dues and air tickets to return. On July 29, the Indian Embassy wrote to Al-Raqeeb, urging the company to resolve the matter on “genuine humanitarian grounds”, and to consider “the impact of COVID-19”.  It is not clear if the company has responded to the Indian Embassy yet. On the ground, however, the workers have not heard from their employer. Their passports continue to be withheld, and their salaries have been pending for the last ve months.  This isn’t the life Sathish had planned. He had studied catering, worked nine years in the hotel sector, and wanted a better life for him and his family when he migrated to Kuwait in 2016.  https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/no-pay-5-months-passports-withheld-indians-stranded-kuwait-plead-help-130392?fbclid=IwAR2YtxmZE10fS_RmLoF0mJShXRoK57P9_reA-rDN8V0kBzkj7UG7dwEhiVs 2/3

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