The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey on behalf of more than 200 Indian construction workers, alleges “violations of the most basic laws applicable to workers in this country, including the Compulsory Labor Prohibition Act.”
Hundreds of marginal workers from India were hired to build a huge Hindu temple in New Jersey where they were forced to work long hours at low wages in violation of U.S. labor and immigration laws, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
More than 200 Indian construction workers at the temple have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Newark, alleging “the most serious violations of the most basic laws applicable to workers in this country, including the law prohibiting forced labor.”
The lawsuit, filed by five workers, alleges that their employer, Mr. Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sangstha, or BAPS, of Bochsan, and its affiliates in India, brought them to the U.S. .
New Jersey’s minimum wage is 12 12 an hour and U.S. law requires a maximum wage rate per worker when they work more than 40 hours a week.
The lawsuit alleges that the workers were kept under constant surveillance and threatened with pay cuts, arrests and repatriation if they spoke to outsiders. On Tuesday, FBI agents visited the sprawling ornate temple in rural Robinsville, just east of Trenton.
“We were in court-approved law enforcement activities there,” Doreen Holder, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in New York, confirmed by telephone.
The holder declined to say in detail how many agents were on the premises or about their mission.
A spokesman for BAPS, which describes itself as a socio-spiritual Hindu organization, said its agencies did not immediately call for comment at their offices in Piscataway, New Jersey.
The lawsuit alleges that the BAPS companies owned the land where the temple was built and that arrangements were made for its construction. The temple has been open for several years but work is underway to expand it.
Plaintiffs, who claimed to have worked at the temple as stonecutters and other construction workers until 2012, said they belonged to the Scheduled Castes in India, who were previously considered “untouchables” and socially ostracized.
Complaints about their construction work were once made, “They were forced to live and work on fences, protected premises, which were not allowed to go unhindered by the principals approved with them (BAPS).”
The lawsuit alleges that workers were falsely classified as religious workers and volunteers upon entering the country, seeking “full value of their services” as well as indefinite damages and other compensation.