Daily life for Kuya Boy (name changed to prevent any backlash) has become an unchanging routine since May when he first set foot on Saipan.
“I wake up at 5am every day, take a [shower], eat breakfast, and read the last message from my family on my phone to inspire me throughout the day,” he said, speaking in Tagalog.
“The work shuttle picks us up at 6am and work proceeds from 7am to 4pm and sometimes extended to 6pm due to overtime work. When I reach the dormitory, I immediately reach for my phone to talk to my wife instead of reaching for my dinner. My heart is suffused with love upon hearing my loved ones.
“I massage my own shoulders to take away the ache from the day’s work and then I go to sleep, to repeat the same routine the next day,” he said.
This has been Kuya Boy’s life since May. Recently laid off as a mason of Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC, the abrupt termination of his contract early this week, together with 79 other foreign workers with H2-B visas, means he has to make new plans, despite being assured of a job until January 2019.
His routine looks simple but the things that happen in between are not. “There were days when I wake up feeling that I didn’t want to get up. My body is tired from the work the day before. I know every worker, whether you are in construction or office work, have this kind of day,” he said.
“But what makes it harder for us is we have to ignore the feeling. One, we are in a foreign land, totally dependent on our company; and two, whether we like it or not, we have to go to work because of the ‘no work, no pay’ policy,” he added.
Kuya Boy said that he was hired as a mason. However, ever since he arrived, he has not done any masonry work or anything related to it. “Out of 400 masons brought to work in the site, only 50 people actually perform the job. In our first two weeks, we were assigned many jobs except masonry. I worked as a cleaner, scaffolder, helping other workers put up pre-casts outside.”
“They told us they don’t have a masonry job that they can give us, so we were told to do other things. One time we were ordered to sweep the floor and another boss questioned us. We feel helpless in these situations because we got that order to clean because there is no other work,” he said.
He cited an instance when a worker was hit in the eye by a welding flux. “This worker was doing welding work, apart from what is in his contract. He injured his eye and was rushed to the hospital. IPI refused to pay for the hospital bills because they said the accident happened when the worker was not doing the work he was there for,” he said.
“But I heard later on that IPI paid for his bills, but he did not get paid his wages as they followed the ‘no work, no pay’ policy. Recently, another Filipino worker almost lost his finger while at work and the safety officers did not make a report so the worker did not get monetary support for that,” he added.
Despite the experience and the things that he has witnessed, Kuya Boy stayed afloat. “I have my family to think of. I went here to give my family a good future. They are always my mind. I spent my break time talking to my wife so I can be reminded of my ‘why,’” he said. He was paid $14.27 an hour and food and lodging were provided.
“My goal is that I want my children to reach college and masonry is the only way I know how. I only know construction work. I want my children to be more than that,” he added.
In an earlier email IPI sent Saipan Tribune, it said the reduction of workers is based on the demand of the project. “The purpose of the reduction is to adjust the level of labor supply based on the demand of the construction project… The adjustment is in line with effective workforce planning and efficiency improvement of the project.”
IPI said the terminated workers would be given seven days’ worth of salary for their accrued paid time off that would reflect in their final paycheck.
Kuya Boy and the 79 men are just waiting for their plane tickets back to the Philippines, “I don’t regret that this happened to me. I believe God put me here for a reason and I trust that there is a better opportunity coming my way. This experience taught me not to be complacent,” he said.
“I admit that the salary was really good but the system at work and how the company is run is not ideal. If given the chance to come back to Saipan to work in a different company, I will,” he added.