x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Charity to repatriate stranded workers

Red Crescent says the men, who were abandoned by their company in a camp scheduled to be demolished, will be given one-way tickets home.

Phool Chand, left, is one of 28 former employees of Al Otaiba and Garg who have been stranded since the firm went bankrupt.
Phool Chand, left, is one of 28 former employees of Al Otaiba and Garg who have been stranded since the firm went bankrupt.

ABU DHABI // A group of abandoned workers who have lived in legal limbo for the past year and whose accommodation is being razed this week will be sent home by the Red Crescent Authority (RCA). 

Jabir al Rawisi, who works for the RCA, said the organisation will provide the workers with one-way tickets home in a week's time. The action will bypass the arrangement allegedly being worked on by a representative of the workers' former employer, Al Otaiba and Garg. The representative had said that the workers would be out of the country by Monday of this week.

Although the representative, Nabeel Abujabarah, had told the workers he was making arrangements with the RCA, authority officials said that the only meeting they have had with Mr Abujabarah took place yesterday. "I am not sure how we will live in the camps for another week or two," said Jamuna Singh, a former employee of Al Otaiba and Garg. 

"We have been giving him [Abujabarah] money every time he asks and we still don't have anything in our hands that will let us leave the country."

Even though two government ministries and a judge said the men were not required to pay any fees related to their departure from the country, the workers say they each paid Mr Abujabarah about Dh500 to process paperwork, clear fines and register for an eye scan that would allow them to leave the UAE. 

"On Sunday we were told that we were to go for eye tests," said Rajesh Kumar Yadav, one of the stranded workers. "But at the last minute, he cancelled it."

On Monday, Mr Abujabarah said that he had a list of cancelled visas and was in possession of the workers' passports. "One day he says something," said Satdev Pratap Singh, another worker, "and another day he says something else." 

On Monday, Mr Abujabarah had said that getting the paperwork in order for all the workers would take another three or four days. The workers were left in legal limbo when the company ran into financial problems in 2008. 

Al Otaiba and Garg declared bankruptcy last year, but the men said work had dried up towards the end of 2008 and that they have been without salaries since then.

When they lost their jobs, the workers, housed in a run-down camp in Musaffah, were unable to find new work, and quickly ran out of food and medical supplies. The RCA provided regular medical visits and distributed food to the men. During the first week it began helping the workers the aid group spent Dh5,000 on food and other supplies and arranged for a doctor to visit the camp. 

Most of the workers, who are in their 50s and 60s, were suffering from a host of medical problems, including diabetes, poor eyesight and arthritis. Last year, the charity group gave each worker Dh1,000 to send home.

In September 2009 the emirate's Sharia court outlined how much compensation 128 former employees of Al Otaiba and Garg should receive. The Ministry of Labour ruled last year that the men could take new jobs without incurring the fines ordinarily levied when employees seek to change jobs, but most of them have chosen to return home. All of the workers have received their end-of-service benefits, as dictated by the courts.

The compensation packages ranged from Dh3,600 to Dh9,000, depending on how long the workers had been with the company. Most had worked for the contracting group for more than two decades. 

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae 

* With additional reporting by Ola Salem