BWI unions bring relief to stranded Indian migrant workers in Serbia

BWI-affiliated trade unions in India and Serbia joined hands in helping 51 Indian migrant workers who were left stranded without any work and salaries in the Balkan country. The workers, employed by Idea Capital LLC in Kraljevo, Serbia and contracted out to GP Nikolic from Kraljevo to construct various buildings, were reportedly living in impoverished camps without proper food, sanitation and health care. They are also said to have worked 10-12 hours a day and 6 days a week from April to May without any overtime pay.   

As a response, BWI’s affiliate in Serbia, the Autonomous Trade Union of Road Workers of Serbia (SSPS) and civil society group ASTRA, an anti-trafficking action movement, linked with BWI Indian trade unions INBCWWF and TKTMS to provide immediate relief and assistance to the workers, who have since staged a series of protests in Kraljevo’s City Centre to draw attention to their situation and their demands for their full salaries to be paid and their safe return to India. 

BWI Indian Affiliates Council Chair and INBCWWF President Rama Chandra Khuntia brought the workers’ case before India’s Ministry of External Affairs on 17 August which prompted the Indian Ambassador in Serbia to hold a dialogue with Serbia’s Secretary of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs. A company visit was immediately conducted wherein they met both the workers and management. An agreement was reached between the workers and management in the presence of embassy officials. It was agreed that workers will be paid their full salaries, will be tested for COVID-19 and provided safe transport back to India. The workers will be sent home to India in batches, with the first batch of 11 workers to leave on 25 August.  

“We thank the Indian Government, BWI, INBCWWF, TKTMS, SSPS and ASTRA for demonstrating cross-border solidarity and collectively working together to bring an end to the travails and sufferings of the Indian migrant workers stranded in Serbia,” Khuntia said. 

SSPS President Dusko Boskovic said that the moment that they learned about the appalling conditions of the Indian migrant workers, they immediately alerted BWI and its partner ASTRA. 

“Our sister Indian trade unions were immediately involved and our joint efforts were able to help the workers in realising their demands. This once again proves the importance of trade unions being part of a global network to promote and defend workers’ rights. We must always organise and stay connected with each other,” Boskovic said.