Thirty-six foreign workers, including Indians, have alleged that their Malaysian employer deducted between 80,000 rupees to a lakh for work permit fees.
The workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have also alleged that they failed to obtain the permits and their salaries had also not been paid for two months by their employer, a maritime logistics company.
The workers stopped going to work about two weeks ago and have lodged two police reports and gone to the Labour Department with their grouses.
Darshan Singh from Punjab said that he wanted to seek employment elsewhere. "My family wants me to go home and get married but I can't leave as my passport is with the company's owner," 30-year-old Singh was quoted by the Star newspaper.
An NGO central executive committee member K S Kottapan, who is helping them, claimed that the Immigration Department did not have any record of the workers' applications.
The company's assistant operations manager said the agent helping to obtain the work permits had absconded with the money.
"We went to his office to check on the status but he had vacated the place," he said, adding the company did not owe the workers' salary arrears.
He claimed a second agent told them that the workers were allocated to other employers, adding that they needed time to sort the matter out.
He claimed the company had suffered losses as the workers had not given any notice before stopping work.