ON CONTRACT WORKER CRISIS

CDA executive director: Retain current workforce now

Commonwealth Development Authority Executive Director Manuel A. Sablan delivers the closing remarks during the CNMI Junior Achievement Company Program Spring 2016 competition’s banquet at the Pacific Islands Club’s Charley’s Cabaret on Saturday. (Ferdie Dela Torre)

Commonwealth Development Authority executive director Manuel A. Sablan delivers the closing remarks during the CNMI Junior Achievement Company Program Spring 2016 competition’s banquet at the Pacific Islands Club’s Charley’s Cabaret on Saturday. (Ferdie Dela Torre)

Considering that the CNMI’s main industry is tourism that requires a sufficient number of skilled manpower, the current workforce now in the CNMI should be retained, according to Commonwealth Development Authority executive director Manuel A. Sablan.

“You have to retain whoever is in the workforce now,” said Sablan when asked about the ongoing contract worker crisis. Sablan said the hotel industry requires manpower to operate business, which is different from capital-intensive industry, where machines are being used to produce something that can replace a human labor force.

Sablan said to see the tourism industry progress, the CNMI should be very conscious with its employment requirement.

He said CNMI should put emphasis on trying to get the residents here and prepare them to get into the job market.

The CDA executive director said the job market requires skills and the pay level depends on skills.

He underscored the need to maintain the current employment force unless there is a substitute.

Sablan said looking at the statistics, the 2014 figure is telling that 24,000 workers are in the labor force and that a substantial amount of that are nonresidents or at least individuals/workers who are not U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals.

“So with this high component here of foreign skills, are you telling me that you can replace this thing overnight?” he said.

Sablan said to replace the nonresident workers, the CNMI needs to generate local residents within the situation.

He said there are just not enough skilled workers from the local workforce.

Sablan said his recommendation is retain the current workforce and begin to set a program, that requires some kind of multi-planning, to meet the jobs.

“We don’t control the issue. It’s external control. So you can plan whatever you want to plan unless you can convince those people in the decision making to be sympathetic with our situation that are knowledgeable with what’s happening,” he said.

Sablan said the bottom line really is the issue regarding the availability of skilled workers to provide the service to the hotel industry.

He said anybody that is trained and educated and has experience will be able to enter that job.

“The question is how many locals have the skills? What are the skills being provided? You look at the numbers and get some kind of long-term solution,” he said.

Sablan said the prevailing wage in the CNMI must attract workers from the U.S. mainland or Hawaii and even from Federated States of Micronesia to replace the nonresident workers.

Sablan said what they are trying to do at CDA is encourage local entrepreneurs, local business development.

“I don’t care whether you are residents or nonresidents but as long as you are here. By doing that you generate revenue,” he said.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced two weeks ago that they had reached the 12,999 cap of contract workers allowed to work in the CNMI this year. Many contract workers and businesses are affected by the cap. If no relief is given, many families are expected to be separated.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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