First Indian Workers Arrive in Croatia: ”This Is Our Dream”

Lauren Simmonds

The first five Indian construction workers in Croatia say that their dreams have come true.

As Jutarnji writes on the 20th of June, 2018, about a year ago, Igor Staraj, a construction entrepreneur from Opatija, was called up by a colleague on whose construction site some problems had arisen.

In the midst of concreting, two of his workers got into a heated argument and one lost his temper and suddenly left to go home. Owing to that event, he didn’t actually have anyone to put cement into the mixer, and the job was supposed to be completed by the end of that day. Although Staraj’s specialty was electrical work, he rushed straight to his colleague and asked for help from one of his workers.

They later commented on the problems with which almost all construction companies in Croatia have been met with rather regularly over the last two years. Croatian builders have been heading to Western Europe in their droves. Not even the labour force from Serbia or Bosnia and Herzegovina are that interested anymore, they’re staying in Croatia for a short time and Croatia appears to just be acting as a transit station for the onward journey to Western Europe.

Entrepreneurs are condemned to an unprofessional workforce which easily abandons their work and resigns, sometimes even after just a few days on the site, being forced to resort to auxiliary workers who are simply not qualified to perform such jobs. Staraj’s colleague then uttered a sentence which would soon be going around and around in the Opatija entrepreneur’s head: “If you could just see how the Indians work, they’d be welcome here.”

”My husband came home with the idea: ”We’re going to bring the workers from India”. I just said, ”Good.”

”I sat down at the computer and started searching, ”Indian worker”, ”Indian culture”, and so on. I’ve found that a lot of Indian workers work in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. After a few months, we contacted a company in India, headquartered in Mumbai, which has been engaged in the export of Indian labour to foreign markets for 43 years. It’s called Sterling Technical Stuffing LTD. They became our partners, signed an exclusive contract for Croatia and Europe and, here, the first workers arrived,” says Jasna Staraj, who is the first in Croatia to have hired five Indian builders.

”Steel workers, carpenters, electricians… These are all the jobs for which Croatian workers could not be found. We set up bids through HZZZ, but it was all in vain. We’ve got a few workers who’ve been with us for years, but there’s more work, and less and less of a workforce. We were never late with our jobs, but we realised that there could be problems. We had to do something and the solution really came in the final hour,” noted Jasna Staraj.

Jasna and Igor have the Inflow company together with a Slovakian partner, Miroslav Hric. Igor has been in the building industry for twenty years and has participated in well-known construction projects, such as the construction of the Cultural Centre Drago Gervais in Opatija, POS flats, halls, Interspar, a kindergarten in Opatija… They began dealing with and resolving the paperwork involved for the Indian workers last year, and the first ones are already here in the country.

“All praise goes to the police department of Primorje-Gorski Kotar, our Embassy in India, New Delhi, and the ML Legal and Lukšić Kokic lawyer’s office, all together, they’ve done a great job and the work permits have come to fruition. The owners of our partner company from Mumbai came to Croatia for the first time for New Year. Twenty days ago, we met up in Italy, we spent time together, both our family and their families. For now, there are five workers from India, five have visas and are arriving in 10 to 15 days, we’ve obtained 21 work permits and more than forty of them are being processed. Our first plan is to bring in about a hundred workers from India, and then, if necessary, that number can rise,” Jasna Staraj told Jutarnji.

Staraj provided them with accommodation, a 190 square metre flat with three bathrooms of 190 in Klana, near Opatija. Although they only arrived last week, Jasna says that the inhabitants of Klana have welcomed them with open arms.

On Saturday, together with local residents, they watched the match in the cafe and cheered for the Croatian national team. They got Croatian jerseys and immediately became Croatian fans, despite the fact that football isn’t their sport. They all follow cricket. The first words learned by one of them were ”Forza Fiume!” They’re very satisfied. The gentleman and lady in whose apartment they reside have praised their behaviour, people in the cafe spend time with them. They agreed to watch the match again on Wednesday. Otherwise, this is the first time they’ve ever heard about Croatia, they didn’t even know that Croatia was there. They have very little idea about Europe at all, they know about Rome, Paris, France, and that’s it, more or less. They say that coming to Europe was their dream. When they were told to go to Europe, they couldn’t believe it,” says Jasna Staraj.

We visited them on their first working day at the Luka Rijeka warehouse building in Škrljev, where the works are being run by GP Krk. They took to their jobs well, and their boss Dejan Ignjić says that they’re incredibly valuable and precise. The first working day was a kind of attraction at the site, the other workers came to meet them and take photos, so it was a bit embarrassing for the Indians.

As soon as we arrived, Manickam Jegadeesan approached us and said that Croatia was wonderful and that the job was great.

”This has been my dream, it’s a pleasure to be here. It’s too good. And it’s cold, not like in Dubai,” he said.

Two of them have wives and children.

“Our families are very satisfied with us,” they say.

Jasna Staraj bought them all mobile phones so they can talk with their families and arranged for them to have vegetarian lunches delivered to the construction site.

The Indians say that the food is excellent, as well as the accommodation. Although they don’t talk about it, the working conditions for Indian workers in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, or Qatar are far worse than they are in Croatia, where many documentaries and newspaper articles talk about how it is. There, they are housed in barracks and work even in extreme temperatures.

Although Jasna Staraj didn’t reveal what their salary is, she says that it’s in the range of an average Croatian wage in the building industry. The Indians, according to her, work on average, eight hours a day.

”They’re awesome. They told me their dreams had come true. They say, ”This is my company, I’ll work for my company” – That’s their philosophy. They’re doing their best,” added Jasna Staraj.

If at some point there’s no specific job, they wait for a new assignment.

“I wanted to give the materials to them, but they immediately got up and picked it up themselves. They don’t give me anything to physically need to do for them,” said their manager, Dejan Ignjić.

Of course, with such a work ethic, they immediately gained admiration from everyone on the site.

Jasna Staraj says that the import of workforce from India is a win-win situation, both for Croatian workers and for Indians, as well as for Croatian employers.

”No one can say that they’re taking people’s jobs, because these positions simply can’t be filled. The offer is bigger than the demand is. They’re really satisfied, their wages are good, their working conditions are good, their accommodation is good, in Europe they have the opportunity to work and feed their families. Our workers are now more relieved, they can switch to management affairs. We too now have enough workers for new projects, we can get everything done in time, and contract more jobs,” said Jasna, before adding that all this is a great advertisement for Croatia – India is a huge country and it’s good for Indians to have the feeling that Croatia is at all existent, and a part of Europe.

Her husband Igor believes this is just the beginning.

“If you just go to Italy, you’ll see that all the jobs, construction and service activities are done by Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshi, Filipinos… For two years, we’ve had a huge problem with the lack of workforce. I’m sure this is a solution to everybody’s benefit,” concluded Igor Staraj.

They built the famous Burj Khalifa.

Workers coming to Croatia via Inflow are from Madurai, Chennai and Kolkata, and the first ages of the first five are from 1978 and 1994. They’ve worked in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Qatar to date, on massive projects such as Palm Island Constructions in Dubai, the metro in Dubai, the metro in Rihada, the famous Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, which still stands as the highest tower in the world until the Kingdom Tower is completed.

The first five are Gyan Prakash Shaw, Deivendran Mahendran, Manickam Jegadeesan, Andisamy Paridiyan and Lakshmikanthan Mahalingam. In addition to Prakash Shaw, who is from Kolkata, everyone is from Chennai. All of them are vegetarians, Hindus, they don’t drink, and they don’t smoke (as their religion prescribes), their native language is Hindu, but they all speak English too.


Click here for the original article by Luka Bencic for Jutarnji


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