Residency limit alarms contractors

Posted on Feb 08 1999

Contractors in the Northern Marianas will close shop if Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio signs the three-year limit on the stay of foreign workers because local residents are not interested to work in the construction industry.

In a letter sent to Sen. Morgen P. Tenorio, author of SB 11-71 which imposes the three-year residency limit, the CNMI Contractors Association said replacing the workers every three years would be very costly for the industry.

According to Peter Erret Jr., president of the association, the guest workers who have stayed in the CNMI for more than a year “are the more reliable, hard working and honest citizens.”

Replacing these individuals with workers of unknown character will affect the community that stands to lose from a law that forces repatriation of contract workers every three years, he said.

The cost of replacing the contract workers is far greater than recruitment and payment of air fare. “We will lose efficiency in our operations until the new workers are brought up to speed,” Erret said.

Furthermore, the values of job safety and environmental awareness that have been taught to workers through the years of their continued stay will go to waste once they are replaced. This may result in the increase in accident rate as new workers hired have not been through safety training programs.

Between 1,500 to 3,00 workers are currently employed in the construction and related industries. The CNMI will always be dependent on guest workers because the young people here lack the necessary skills and experience as well as the motivation to seek the necessary training in the construction industry, the association said.

“Retaining local workers is hard because they do not come to work everyday and frequently come to work late, the association said in an earlier position paper sent during the 902 talks.

Since 1989, the association has hired 78 local hourly-workers. Of these, only seven of them stayed for three years and two for more than four years, making the average length of employment of locals to only 7.1 months.

“This means that if we relied solely on the local worker, we would have about 150 percent turnover of our workforce every year,” the association said.

The association noted that it had a training program designed to reach local workers to become truck drivers which included both classroom and actual driving instruction.

Each received full pay of $5.50 per hour plus benefits for the training period which lasted for one to two months depending on the individual.

A total of 17 local workers completed the course for the past eight years that the association ran the training program.

Unfortunately, not one of those who were trained stayed to work in the industry. They either moved to Guam or Palau, worked for a tour company as a bus driver, transferred to a government post, terminated for excessive absenteeism and removed for reckless driving.

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