MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Migrant workers in Russia are routinely denied wages, threatened with violence, and abused by the police, and the economic crisis is likely to make their lives worse, Human Rights Watch says in a new report.
Millions of migrants from poor ex-Soviet republics have flocked to work in Russia, but the government has failed to protect them from predatory employers and corrupt officials, the rights group said.
The report focuses on workers in the construction sector, which it says employs 40 percent of the up to 9 million migrants it estimates to be working in Russia, the largest number of migrant workers outside the United States.
"Without urgent action by the Russian government, migrant construction workers will be doubly vulnerable to abuse, both by employers and by others looking to scapegoat migrants for the country's economic problems," report author Jane Buchanan said in a statement.
Worst Crisis In Decade
Half a million people lost their jobs in Russia in December as the country suffered from its worst economic crisis in a decade. The construction sector has been among the worst hit.
The report's authors interviewed 146 current or former construction workers who complained of being forced to sleep on the floors of dirty trailers, work with shoddy safety equipment, and endure beatings and unpaid wages.
Their problems sometimes began as soon as they boarded trains to Russia from Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, when agents extorted money to bribe border guards, the report said.
Some complained that when they arrived in Russia promises of highly paid work were not fulfilled.
Four men said they found an alternative employment agency when their jobs fell through. The agency confiscated their passports and sent the workers to a sunflower seed processing factory, where they were forced to work long hours.
Employers were accused of cutting corners on safety.
A 27-year-old welder from Kyrgyzstan told HRW his employer refused to send for a doctor when he fell on a nail from two meters, piercing his abdomen.
A foreman from Belarus said he fell from the 17th floor after his safety belt broke and had to save himself by catching hold of the scaffold on the eighth floor.
Housing for workers is also generally substandard, the report said.
Workers in Russia's southern Rostov region said they were housed in a filthy cargo container and forced to drink rain water from puddles and a nearby swamp.Russian officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.
The government says migrant workers are important for its economy, but it says many of them fall foul of the authorities because they do not have proper residency or work permits. It also says some migrants are involved in crime.