Double-dipping is pushed to solve CNMI labor woes

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Posted on Jul 18 2017

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A bid to amend the CNMI Constitution to allow double-dipping as a means to resolve the CNMI’s labor woes has gained steam at the Senate, which adopted the legislative initiative last week.

Senate Legislative Initiative 20-01 now awaits House action.

Double-dipping means allowing an individual to receive both a pension and a salary. The CNMI Constitution limits the re-employment of retirees to two years.

However, Senate Legislative Initiative 20-01, which was introduced by Sen. Justo Quitugua (Ind-Saipan), now seeks to amend the CNMI Constitution to allow the re-employment of retirees, who will continue to receive their pension benefits “indefinitely.”

Retirees would be allowed to work again as teachers, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals “for an unlimited period of time”—as opposed to the two-year limit.

According to the initiative, its main purpose is to address the foreign workforce problems plaguing the CNMI.

The CW-1 visa program, which is unique only to the CNMI, is slated to be phased out by the end of calendar year 2019, forcing the private sector and others who tap CW-1 workers to either rely on an insufficient local labor workforce or on the more expensive H visas, in competition with other states.

As indicated in SLI 20-01, the amendment to the CNMI Constitution would accommodate the economic growth and developmental boom the CNMI is experiencing.

Quitugua’s measure would specifically amend Article III, Section 20(b) of the CNMI Constitution.

Back in early 1998, the CNMI government enacted Public Law 11-2, which enabled the re-employment of certain government retirees,

Government agencies that benefitted from the re-entry of retirees into the workforce included the Public School System and the former Department of Public Health, now known as the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.

PSS was able to hire retired classroom teachers for a period of two years but soon experienced a shortage of teachers two years after. DPH on the other hand, hired several doctors and nurses to alleviate a staff shortage.

Currently, CHCC is now facing difficulties recruiting doctors and nurses, among other medical professions and recently experienced what is known among foreign workers as a CW cap, when all available slots for foreign workers within a year is filled up.

For SLI 20-01 to take effect, at least three-fourths of both the House of Representatives and the Senate should vote for its passage. Following the initiative’s passage, registered voters of the CNMI would then have to vote on the initiative at the next regular general elections.

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Erwin Encinares | Reporter

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