Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/UK: Craftsmen given 30p an hour get £100 ,000 back pay
From: Melanie Orhant (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Jan 04 2001 - 11:41:54 EST
Craftsmen given 30p an hour get £100,000 back pay
By Terri Judd
The Independent (UK), December 12, 2000
They came from a group of villages in Rajasthan, an Indian state famed for
its colourful festivals, legendary maharajahs and grand palaces.
For generations, their families had been stone masons, creating the
delicate lattice work and mythological figures that tourists swoon over daily.
Yet when they arrived in Britain, they were treated as "slave labour",
receiving as little as 30p per hour and housed in squalid conditions.
Yesterday, news emerged that they would receive back pay amounting to more
than £100,000 because of intervention by the Inland Revenue.
One union insisted that such "slave labour" had become too common in
Britain. George Brumwell, general secretary of the Union of Construction,
Allied Trades and Technicians, warned that certain unscrupulous sections of
the construction and agricultural industry would be eager to exploit any
relaxation of immigration laws.
"This is just one of many instances of exploitation of foreign workers in
this country, being paid abysmally and living in sub-standard conditions,"
"Home Office minister Barbara Roche laid out a set of criteria where a
relaxation of immigration rules would be approved where there is a proven
economic need and acute skills shortage. However, efforts will be judged a
failure if people are left open to abuse and exploitation."
The group of 11 were enticed to Britain with an offer to work on the
biggest Hindu temple to be built outside India on what must have appeared
The stonemasons, all from villages around Dungarpur, had initially been
employed by an Indian company to carve the intricate figurines that were to
adorn the Shri Sanatan temple in Alperton, north London – an ornate, £7m
structure intended to overshadow every other temple in the Western world.
They were offered double their average salary of 5,000 rupees (about £100)
per month to come to England.
The project appeared to have unimpeachable backing. The company that
employed them in England – Shrico Ltd is owned by the Shri Vallabh Nidhi-UK
– is a registered charity set up to advance the Hindu religion and "relieve
poverty, sickness and distress".
Shrico's chairman is Nalinikant Pandya, a man who was appointed MBE for his
services to the Indian community. Paul Boateng, Minister of State for the
Home Office, acting in his constituency capacity, had intervened to help
the company bring workers to England.
Yet the respectable front hid scandalous inner workings. The wages, – as
little as £125 per month – were sent home, leaving them £15 of "overtime"
to live off in this country, a supporter said. They worked for 12 hours,
six days a week.
"They lived in this small cabin, their clothes kept in suitcases, their
kitchen was damp and filthy. They weren't given any heating until
November," he added.
He said their passports were removed and they were kept like "prisoners",
locked on site at night and the electricity was switched off at 10pm. "Yet
they never once slacked off on their work. They never even threatened to go
The company, when challenged by the Overseas Labour Service, he said,
argued that it had been merely debiting living expenses, medical costs and
charges for sightseeing trips.
"Their initial work permits stipulated that they should receive between
£160 and £190 per week and be provided with accommodation," a
representative for the workers said yesterday.
Yet in addition to not receiving a minimum wage, they were paid a scant
fraction of the £22 per hour that qualified English stonemasons would
expect. Eventually the Department for Education and Employment alerted the
Yesterday it was announced that the company had agreed to bring their
salaries up to a minimum of £3.70 and pay the workers retrospectively back
to April 1999, when they started working.
The Charity Commission confirmed that it was investigating Shri Vallabh
They came to Britain to earn 30p an hour, but they will return home as
By Jeevan Vasagar
The Guardian (UK), December 12, 2000
With a thick scarf swaddling his ears from the bitter wind, Suresh Suthar
grinned and repeated the one English phrase he recognised: "minimum wage."
One of 19 stonemasons brought from a remote, rural corner of northern India
in April last year, he and his comrades have been paid a pittance to work
on an elaborate Hindu temple under construction in Wembley, north London.
Now, under threat of prosecution, the company that employs them has been
forced to raise their wage from 30p an hour to the guaranteed minimum of
It is still only a fraction of the £6.35 an hour going rate for British
stonemasons, but, with back pay, the Indian workers will get a £110,000
A delighted Mr Suthar said that his share would go to pay for a "big house"
for his wife and children, and perhaps help towards setting up a business
in his native province of Dungarpur, in Rajasthan.
The case has highlighted the risks of exploitation faced by foreign
workers. Union campaigners spoke yesterday of the "inhuman" conditions in
which the men have lived - in cramped, prefabricated huts on the building
site with primitive kitchens and squalid toilets.
A clause in the workers' contracts specified that the electricity supply
would be cut off each night at 11pm on days when they were not working.
Many of them were stripped of their passports and risked being deported if
On the work permits on which the men were brought from India, they were
promised between £160 and £190 a week, plus allowances, food and lodging.
With an average annual salary in India of only £275, this was an excellent
wage. But they were actually receiving only around £125 for a month of six
day weeks. Their wages were paid in rupees to their families in India.
George Brumwell, general secretary of the Union of Construction, Allied
Trades and Technicians, said: "We're delighted we've been able to highlight
this, but we believe it is the tip of the iceberg in Britain's construction
"We discovered this kind of thing going on as far back as eight years ago,
when we found 24 Polish carpenters on a site in Yorkshire being paid £2 an
hour and they were living in a steel container."
Mr Brumwell added: "We welcome foreign skilled workers who can make a real
contribution to the British economy, but what we won't have is people being
... exploited to line the pockets of employers."
The company building the temple, Shrico, had argued that the men worked for
its sister firm in India, which had drawn up the contracts. The men were
then seconded to Britain to assemble the intricately carved blocks of stone
which make up the temple building.
It is understood that Shrico directors agreed to start paying the minimum
wage, and make up the back pay, following the threat of a prosecution by
Inland Revenue inspectors.
Shrico is a subsidiary of the Shri Vallabh Nidhi charity, which is being
investigated by the Charity Commission relating to "administration and
finances, particularly regarding the building of the new temple in
Wembley", a spokeswoman said.
In September, the government relaxed rules on foreign workers coming to
Britain to fill skills shortages. Under a pilot scheme, multinationals have
been allowed to issue their own work permits to foreign staff. There were
up to 20,000 applications to the scheme and companies including
Rolls-Royce, Ernst & Young and Sony UK have benefited. Howard Ewing,
general secretary of the Low Pay Commission, said of the temple workers:
"This demonstrates that even if you import your workers and employ them in
this country, you have got to pay at least the national minimum wage."
There is concern among Britain's 1m-plus Hindu community that the scandal
will tarnish their reputation.
Yesterday, the Wembley temple's leaders seemed to pay little heed to good
PR. When two of the workers approached a chainlink fence to speak to
reporters, a member of the management committee shouted "get back to work"
at them and threw the journalists off the site.
A long way from home
The pubs, grey pavements and double-decker buses of Wembley would have been
an exotic sight for the Indian stonemasons, who all hail from the rural
province of Dungarpur in the arid northern state of Rajasthan.
A more familiar sight at home are the sacred cows who wander the hot and
dusty streets chewing vegetable peel, and the ox carts lugging cargos of
A temple source said: "These are not middle class people. They live in
villages which have electricity - but only just about.
"You can see that from what they are going to do with the money. They are
going to build proper houses with a good roof, and running water.
"In terms of the global marketplace, these people are towards the bottom."
The men, who practise a skill handed down from father to son, were lured by
promises of a wage that was good by Indian standards.
"But when they got here they were virtual prisoners, with their movement
restricted and electricity cut off at night," the source said.
Rajasthan is a popular destination for western travellers, and tourist
guides describe Dungarpur as an area rich in teak and mango trees and noted
for its wildlife.
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