Indian brick workers treated ‘worse than slaves’: NGO

Indian labourers working in a brick kiln on the outskirts of Jalandhar. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2017

Indian brick workers treated ‘worse than slaves’: NGO

NEW DELHI: Millions of Indian brick workers are trapped in bonded labor and regularly cheated out of their wages, an anti-slavery group said Wednesday as it demanded government action.
A study by Anti-Slavery International in the northern state of Punjab said workers are often rescued by NGOs only to return to the kilns, needing back wages owed to them or lacking other opportunities.
There are an estimated 10 million workers toiling amid punishing heat and life-threatening pollution at tens of thousands of small-scale brick kilns in India.
The kilns have become part of the underbelly of India’s economic miracle, producing building materials for gleaming offices, factories and call centers sprouting up across the world’s seventh largest economy.
Impoverished families are often forced to involve their children in hard labor since workers are paid by the number of bricks made.
The “Invisible Chains” report found 65 to 80 percent of children under 14 working for an average of nine hours a day over the hot summer months.
“We have found appalling levels of bonded labor and child labor... young children are working for nine hours a day in a dusty air filled with chemicals rather than going to school,” Sara Mount, the group’s Asia program manager, said.
“Often brick kiln workers are rescued from a situation of bonded labor in brick kilns in one season but then have little choice in the following season but to work in the brick kilns again,” she said in the report.
Bonded labor is illegal in India but rules are regularly flouted to maximize profits with little fear of the law.
Scenes of sweaty bare-footed workers hauling heavy loads and hacking at clay show the economic benefits of India’s speedy growth are yet to reach the marginalized sections of the society.

The report is based on testimonies from families who have worked in the kilns in squalid conditions.
“We toiled day and night for five months but we were barely paid the wages,” said Nohar Bai, a 35-year-old worker.
“Together with my husband we would make some 1,400 bricks in a day. We were a group of 23 people and at night they would lock us all up in a small room. We were treated worse than slaves,” she told AFP by phone.
Rinky, a 26-year-old mother of one, said her employers owed her family 32,000 rupees ($498) — a fortune for many in a country where millions live on less than $2 a day.
“We will not go back again to work there even if it means we will have to forgo what is our rightful earning,” she said.
Tejinder Singh Dhaliwal, Punjab’s labor commissioner, denied rules were being flouted with impunity at the kilns.
“Whenever we get any complaint we act promptly. On the whole conditions are not too bad,” he told AFP.
“Even otherwise we conduct our own surveys and wherever needed we take action. I don’t think rules are being flouted.”
Figures cited in the report said nearly 90 percent of the kilns do not have access to running water and an average family lives in a cramped 7.6 square meter room at the site.
Volunteers for Social Justice, Anti-Slavery International’s partner in the research, said systemic changes were needed to overhaul the exploitative industry.
“The government must ensure workers are paid minimum wages regularly. This would help reduce poverty and vulnerability of families, so there is less need for children to work,” said Jai Singh, director of the group.
“It is time the government takes responsibility and ends this exploitation that shouldn’t be taking place in the 21st century.”


FBI: Saudi shooter believed to have acted alone in US Navy base attack

Updated 09 December 2019

FBI: Saudi shooter believed to have acted alone in US Navy base attack

  • Special agent Rachel Rojas thanked Saudi Arabia for its cooperation in the investigation
  • Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani was shot dead after he opened fire and killed three people at the base in Florida

PENSACOLA: Investigators believe a Saudi Air Force lieutenant acted alone on Friday when he killed three people and wounded eight at a US Navy base in Pensacola, Florida before being fatally shot by police, the FBI said on Sunday.
Rachel Rojas, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville office, said the shooter used a Glock model 45 9mm handgun that he had purchased legally in Florida.
“We currently assess there was one gunman who perpetrated this attack and no arrests have been made in this case,” Rojas, the lead investigator on the case, said at a news conference.
“We are looking very hard at uncovering his motive and I would ask for patience so we can get this right,” she said.
Authorities confirmed the suspect was a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who was on the base as part of a US Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies.
The FBI identified him as Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21.
A sheriff’s deputy fatally shot the gunman, authorities said, ending the second deadly attack at a US military base within a week. Within hours, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had called US President Donald Trump to extend his condolences and pledge the Kingdom’s support in the investigation.
Rojas said there were several Saudi students who were close to the shooter and are cooperating with investigators.
“Their Saudi commanding officer has restricted them to base, and the Saudi government has pledged to fully cooperate with our investigation,” she said. “I thank the kingdom for their pledge of full and complete cooperation.”

Meanwhile, a second victim was identified as Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Florida, who joined the Navy after graduating from high school last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Haitham's mother, Evelyn Brady, herself a Navy veteran, said the commander of her son's school called her and told her Haitham had tried to stop the shooter.