x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

400 workers left in lurch as boss flees

Indian Embassy says it will provide financial help for homeless employees as suppliers chase absconder over failed engineering firm.

Major Singh, an Indian and working at the company for four years, stands outside a steel container which laborours are using after the owner of their company absconded.
Major Singh, an Indian and working at the company for four years, stands outside a steel container which laborours are using after the owner of their company absconded.

DUBAI // About 400 workers have been stranded without food, shelter or pay for five months after their employer's companies went bust.

Systems Engineering LLC, a steel fabrication and engineering firm with offices in Sharjah and Dubai, was founded in 1997 by Joseph D'Souza, an Indian who fled the UAE this month after his businesses failed.

He had employed hundreds of men from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal as helpers, riggers, welders and steel fixers.

The men were yesterday locked out of their labour camp because of non-payment of rent and are living on the streets or in a tiny workshop owned by the company.

An official at the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi has confirmed that some labourers approached them to file a complaint.

"They complained to us that they don't have money and were not paid for the past four to five months," said Anand Bardhan, consul of community affairs at the Indian Embassy.

"We are planning to provide them initial financial assistance within a reasonable limit. We also sought details about their pending salaries," he said.

He said that they were also trying to contact the authorities to inform them about the problem.

The workers said Mr D'Souza had not been seen or heard from in more than a week.

"All his mobile numbers are switched off and the company is closed," said one of the workers, Anil Upadhyaya. "He has absconded to India leaving us in lurch. He owes a lot of money to the workers."

He said that even though Mr D'Souza had not paid them in five months, they had trusted until last week that he would eventually clear their money. The workers were owed about Dh1,000 a month each.

"He promised us salaries in December. We were in shock when we came to know that he left the country without paying us," he said. "There are also other staff members in the managerial positions with high salaries who have not been paid."

Mr Upadhyaya said he took up the job five months ago and had not been paid once. "I am yet to see my money," he said. "I was expecting to be paid this month, but the owner has run away. I came here by borrowing money from friends."

Another worker, E Balram, said the men were in a desperate state.

"We are living in a workshop where there is nothing to take shelter in except a container. We have no money to buy food," he said. "We need urgent help. We have nothing to eat."

His colleague, Abubakr Siddique, also said conditions were terrible. "No one has any money. We have food and accommodation problems. There is no one from the company to help us out," he said.

Mr Siddique said he had been told that the sponsor of the company would get some money back from the bank guarantee deposited by Mr D'Souza. "He said each of us would get Dh3,000 and those who want to go back can cancel their visa."

Various suppliers were also gathered outside the old office in Al Quoz yesterday, trying to find out about the fate of their outstanding payments.

One supplier, who did not wish to give his name, said Mr D'Souza owed millions of dirhams to various businessmen who supplied him with materials.

"I trusted him and supplied tools worth Dh100,000," he said. "I did not expect he would ditch everyone like this," he said. Another businessman said he was owed about Dh800,000.

The now-defunct company's website claims Systems Engineering LLC had been involved in multimillion dirham projects, including Ferrari World, Dubai Festival City and Abu Dhabi's Yas Hotel.

newsdesk@thenational.ae