300 foreign workers claiming abuse appeal to Azeri top prosecutor

3 November 2009 08:09 (UTC+04:00)
Over 300 citizens of Eastern European countries illegally hired by the Serbaz construction company have appealed to Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov claiming abuse and violation of their rights in the workplace, the Azerbaijan Migration Center told AssA-Irada.
The appeal, filed by the nationals of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia, indicated that they had been hired by Milan Vucenovic, the Serbaz company owner, while the company’s director on Azerbaijan is his brother, Bojidar Vucenovic. The company had arranged the expatriates’ arrival in Azerbaijan on tourist visas. Once they crossed the Azerbaijani border, Serbaz executives took their passports and settled them in five houses in Baku. According to the workers, one to two dozen of them stayed in small rooms where living conditions trampled on the norms, and strict rules restricting their rights and freedoms were in place.
The appeal said that 700 foreign nationals worked at construction sites of several shopping malls and the Buta Palace in Baku, and the Kur Olympic Sports Training Center in Mingachevir.
"We were forced to work 12 or more hours per day, without the right to quit. We were not even provided with proper medical aid and had to work even when we were sick. Safety regulations were not observed in the workplace and those injured were treated at home, without being hospitalized."
Though the workers were promised $6-7 per hour, they were told upon arrival in Azerbaijan that the rate was only $2-3. Since May, the workers have not been paid at all, they say.
Moreover, the workers complained of abuse and said that evey day 10 to 30 of them were sent to their home countries without full payment for the work done.
The appeal requested that the prosecutor-general give a due legal assessment to the violations and sought prosecution for what they describe as labor exploitation and human trafficking. They also asked to ensure returning their passports unlawfully taken away from them and payment for their labor.
Azerbaijan’s Deputy Interior Minister Vilayat Eyvazov, who acts as the national coordinator for fighting human trafficking, said while submitting a report in parliament early last week that the problems faced by the Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian workers had no bearing on the Azerbaijani government and should be settled between them and the foreign companies that hired them.*