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More Filipino workers join class suit vs US firm

Publication Date : 26-02-2013


Close to 100 Filipino workers have joined a class action suit against a Louisiana-based company, charging it with exploitative working conditions, a migrant rights group said Sunday (Monday in Manila).

The number of workers who joined the lawsuit against Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS) and a recruitment agency continued to rise after the explosion that rocked an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico on November 16 last year, which took the lives of three Filipino workers and injured three others. The workers had been subcontracted through GIS, which in turn was contracted by the oil platform owner, Black Elk Energy.

“From 17 workers, it’s now close to 100 (who have joined the lawsuit) and we’re hoping more workers will break their silence and come forward,” Julia Camagong, International Migrant Alliance regional representative for the United States, told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

Camagong was part of a national caravan supporting the workers, which made its way from Miami, Chicago, New York, Washington, DC, and New Jersey to New Orleans, Louisiana, this week. The caravan made a stop Monday (Manila time) at the historic Manila Village in Lafitte, New Orleans—the first settlement of Filipinos in the United States. The Filipino settlers escaped from Manila-Acapulco galleon ships in the 1700s.

“Coming here (to Manila Village) is very symbolic,” said Katrina Abarcar, coordinator of East Coast-based group Katarungan. “The Filipinos who settled here were also victims of forced labour.”

Abarcar said the caravan participants were on a “fact-finding and solidarity mission to bear witness to the conditions of Filipino shipyard workers who were trafficked and abused. We are supporting them as they fight for their dignity and rights.”

At least 15 former GIS workers joined the caravan. The workers declined to be interviewed because of the pending litigation.

In a lawsuit filed last year in the US District Court in New Orleans, former GIS workers alleged that recruiters hired by GIS promised them wages of from US$16.25 to $24.37 an hour, housing and food. Instead, the workers said they were paid as little as $5.50 an hour, were overworked and were threatened with deportation when they complained.


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