India and Angola have almost solved the problems facing Indian workers who had struck work, faced police action and had been left in an indigent state near an Angolan town.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) claimed the breakthrough came following talks between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Angolan counterpart Georges Chickoty on Tuesday evening, and then further talks between the cement company's management and the Angolan authorities. As a result, 22 arrested workers are on the brink of being released from custody and could be sent home within the next few days.
According to the Ministry, the company management has paid the penalty imposed on 22 jailed workers. Following diplomatic cajoling, the Angolan authorities have waived the “compensation” of $40,000 (about Rs. 22 lakhs) imposed on the arrested workers for damaging property during clashes with the management.
The company management has also agreed to book the passage of 57 workers (22 charged and 35 arrested but not charged) for leaving Angola over the next couple of days. Their return is being facilitated by the Indian Embassy.
But the conversation between the Ministers actually put the stamp of finality on what had been negotiated by Indian Ambassador in Angola Debraj Pradhan and a Gujarati businessman, Vinubhai Kapasi. Mr. Pradhan had extensive discussions with Angolan officials for the past 10 days, after which they had broadly agreed to waive the compensation after the envoy convinced them that the workers were too impecunious to pay the amount.
The cement company had also agreed in principle to pay the dues as well as send back workers who had been arrested. As many of the workers were deprived of their passports, Mr. Pradhan ensured that they were issued emergency certificates to enable them return to the country.
Mr. Kapasi, the Gujarati businessman, also played a major role behind the scenes and was one of the first to begin mediating when the strike began to take a turn for the worse.
Owner of a mid-sized company, he went to the plant and spoke to the workers and management. Mr. Kapasi then approached the Angolan Minister for Industries as well as the Indian Ambassador, both of whom proved understanding.
Following the conversation between the Ministers, the company has paid all outstanding overtime dues for February in U.S. dollars and has assured disbursement of overtime dues for March over the next couple of days.