New NMI labor bill scored for ‘inhumane’ provisions

Posted on Dec 09 2011

The House of Representatives is poised to act next week or before the Christmas break on a “comprehensive” CNMI labor bill that a workers’ group said yesterday has many “inhumane” provisions that include allowing deductions of up to 25 percent from alien workers’ wages and publications of their names in the newspapers for past due medical bills.

Under House Bill 17-234, employers are no longer required to pay for their alien workers’ medical expenses.

“This bill has many provisions that are inhumane and the government should have done more research before doing this,” United Workers Movement-NMI president Rabby Syed told Saipan Tribune.

Syed said the CNMI government didn’t take the initiative to collect from employers over $6.1 million in unpaid wages of alien workers, “now they want to deduct directly from workers for unpaid hospital bills without going through a more proper process.”

Within 30 days of this bill’s enactment into law, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. has to maintain a database of employer and employee information “so that it can collect from wages or salaries paid by employers amounts due and owing (CHC) that are not paid by employees.”

CHC may collect directly from an employer “up to 25 percent of the monthly wages or salary of any employee who fails for more than 30 days to pay the full amount due under any invoice issued by (CHC)…until the full amount of the invoice is paid.”

If employers fail to provide information to CHC, they may be required to pay from their own fund the full amount owed by their employees to CHC, or face a fine of up to $1,000 for each such failure.

CHC is also required to publish a notice in an English-language newspaper in the CNMI the name and any other necessary identification information of any person who fails for more 30 days to pay the full amount due under any invoice issued by the (CHC).”

Syed said this is “too much” and could be an invasion of patient privacy rights.

The bill says the publication shall provide notice of non-payment, without violating privacy interests in the treatment provided or the amount owed, together with the invoice number and a 20-day period for objections to be filed to any aspect of the invoice.

[B]Alien registration[/B]

The 64-page bill also requires alien registration by the CNMI Department of Labor, but only if the federal government fails to do so.

HB 17-234 or the “Labor Act of 2011” is co-authored by Rep. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan), Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), and Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan).

Cabrera said yesterday that a House session is tentatively set for next week, and HB 17-234 could be acted on.

“This bill patterns the CNMI labor law after U.S. state labor laws. Labor is still under CNMI control,” Cabrera said.

Human rights advocate and former Rota teacher Wendy Doromal believes that alien registration is an “immigration” matter and should therefore be left with the federal government.

Under the bill, aliens who fail to register could face jail time of up to 90 days, fined up to $500 or both.

Syed, for his part, said the CNMI government should focus on developing the CNMI economy and not create more burdens to existing and prospective investors, instead of focusing on issues that are now under the control of the federal government.

HB 17-234 said U.S. Public Law 110-229, the law that placed CNMI immigration under federal control, does not preempt the Commonwealth’s labor laws.

A section-by-section analysis of the bill says now that the CNMI no longer has immigration powers, it does not have a broad basis on which to treat alien workers differently.

It says it’s necessary to repeal existing labor legislation and replace it with a new law because Public Law 15-108 or Commonwealth Act of 2007 was enacted to reform the guest worker program prior to federalization when it was still unclear whether any federal bill would be enacted or what it would contain.

Second, P.L. 17-1 or the Immigration Conformity Act of 2010 was enacted after federalization primarily to take all of the immigration provisions out of the Commonwealth Code.

This law also made changes to the labor law to govern the interim period before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services promulgated its final worker rule for the transition period and while the CNMI’s interim umbrella permit program was still in place.

That interim period ended on Nov. 27, 2011.

HB 17-234 allows the CNMI Labor secretary to set fees to recover the cost of services rendered by the department to the public.

Under the bill, a U.S. worker may make a complaint to the CNMI Labor, including a claim for damages, if an employer has rejected the U.S. worker’s application for the job without just cause, and the employer employs an alien worker for the job.

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