Governor optimistic of fair dealing by wage panel

Posted on Feb 09 1999

Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio yesterday expressed optimism that the Wage Review Committee tasked to determine the new minimum wage for local industries will come up with a “workable” recommendation.

The committee has convened despite the absence of representatives from the federal government, more than seven months since a law creating it was put in place to dampen efforts of Washington to clip the powers of the Northern Marianas to set minimum wage and control immigration.

Under fresh threats of a federal takeover of the commonwealth’s control over labor and minimum wage, the governor first met with committee members last month to begin the tedious work of reviewing appropriate minimum wage for every industry in CNMI.

“I am confident they will recommend something workable to all concerned…and something that we can afford with the present economy,” Tenorio said in an interview.

Just recently, the Office of Insular Affairs, overseer of Northern Marianas and other insular areas, renewed calls for federalization of the local immigration and minimum wage, citing a report that says reforms being undertaken by the local government remain inadequate.

Negotiations with White House officials under Section 902 of the Covenant last month failed to ease plans of the United States to put these commonwealth functions under federal authority.

Under Public Law 11-22, which abolished the Wage and Salary Review Board, nine members – three from the local employers and three from employees, including one non-resident worker, and three representatives from the federal government – would comprise the committee.

The three members who will represent federal agencies will have to be appointed by the US Senate majority leader, the House speaker and the labor administrator.

However, until now Congress has yet to name its representatives, and there was no word whether they have declined the invitation of the commonwealth for federal participation.

The measure empowers the governor to determine whether to create one committee or separate wage boards to deal with every industry. He may consult with the wage administrator of the US Department of Labor on this issue.

According to lawmakers, involving federal representatives in determining the local minimum wage could help thwart attempts to raise local wage rates to federal standards.

But the law says that while the committees can recommend any wage increase, it should “not substantially curtail current or future economic activity or viability of any industry.”

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