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Central Asian Migrants Sue Russian Employer Over Unpaid Wages

There are some 10,000 street sweepers working in St. Petersburg, many of them low-paid migrants from Central Asia. (file photo)

They sweep St. Petersburg's streets for a living, not charity.

That's why 38 migrants from Central Asia are taking their employer, the Agat company, to court for unpaid wages and unfair practices.

The group's representative, Sevara Mannonova, a member of the Novye Profsoyusy trade union, says some of the workers haven't received their salaries since February.

Mannonova said the street sweepers filed an official complaint to St. Petersburg prosecutors on June 26.

The migrant workers, who came from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, claim Agat owes them about $60,000 in unpaid salaries.

The workers have legal residence and job permits in St. Petersburg, and were legally hired by Agat, Mannonova says.

The company had been paying them a monthly salary of $280 each over the past two years.

Mannonova says Agat didn't provide its employees any explanation for the nonpayment, and numerous phone calls to the company were left unanswered.

The street sweepers say some of the workers complained to the heads of the company, but their demands were ignored and they instead were fired and evicted from a company dormitory.

There are some 10,000 street sweepers working in St. Petersburg, most of them low-paid and performing a menial job most Russians simply don't want to do.

The work is often taken by migrant laborers from Central Asia, where many families rely on remittances sent from Russia.

It's not uncommon in Russia for employers to fail to pay migrant laborers, many of whom are vulnerable if they do not speak Russian, understand local law, or know their rights.

But Mannonova has had some success representing migrant workers.

"We successfully represented 40 Uzbek street sweepers who sued their employer in St. Petersburg over unpaid salaries in 2012," Mannonova says.

"The workers received their wages and an apology from the employer, which in addition had to pay fines for the violation of the wage payment laws."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Mirzo Salimpur