Governor throws garment bill to counsels

Posted on Mar 05 1999

Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio yesterday withheld action on a crucial proposal seeking to cap the number of foreign workers employed in the garment industry considered an increase by some lawmakers pending review by his legal counsels.

The governor said he would like to scrutinize the number proposed in House Bill 11-315, which sets at 15,727 the garment workers who would be allowed to work in the Northern Marianas.

Tenorio, who just came from Washington to lobby against the White House’s fresh plan to take over local immigration and minimum wage policies, said he is worried over the bill’s potential impact on the a law banning entry of guest workers into CNMI.

The measure was put in place last year to limit the hiring of non-residents, whose growing presence on the island over the years have worried federal officials because of a host of social and economic problems spawned by their presence.

“I want to carefully look at the number after we implemented the moratorium law. We want to make sure that we get the exact number of workers in the garment industry,” Tenorio said in an interview. “We don’t want to increase the number of garment industry workers.”

Sources from the administration disclosed on condition of anonymity that Tenorio received a lashing from its key allies in the US Congress who are also pushing for the reduction of non-residents.

The proposal, put together by a special House committee chaired by Rep. Oscar Babauta, puts an absolute quota on the number of guest workers that could be employed by each garment manufacturer on the islands.

The aggregate ceiling of 15,727 was reached after consultation with other government agencies, such a commerce and labor and immigration departments, as well as the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association.

Lawmakers opposed to the bill, however, say passage of the legislation would translate to an increase of 2,000 on the actual number of garment workers in the industry, and fear this will further strain local resources and ruffle further strained ties between CNMI and the US.

But the proposal may yet become moot in view of plans by some garment manufacturers to slash jobs in the industry as a result of the $1 billion lawsuit against local apparel makers and US buyers for alleged abuses.

Retailers in the mainland have scaled down orders from local manufacturers that is expected to slow down production by 25 percent. Industry members said cutback in purchase orders would force them to relocate to other countries or reduce the number of factory workers by 10 percent.

“Some of the garment factories are saying that if the trend continues they have no choice but to close shop or relocate. It is unfortunate that this is happening because they have invested a lot of money in the commonwealth,” Tenorio said.

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