Illegal workers ‘remind’ Torres of their presence

Torres: they are out of our jurisdiction

Chinese construction workers who came to Saipan as tourists reminded Gov. Ralph DLG Torres of their sad plight yesterday after the governor, in his testimony during a U.S. Senate hearing last week, said he was unaware of any unpaid construction workers remaining on Saipan.

A representative of the five unpaid workers who illegally worked on the construction of the Imperial Pacific Resort casino under MCC Construction reminded Torres that they remain on Saipan—still unpaid.

“Gov. Torres: We are still here! Still unpaid!” said the five remaining workers in a picture posted on social media.

Last Feb. 6, Torres attended a U.S. Senate hearing on U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) S. 2325, the bill that would extend the CNMI’s transition period until 2029, effectively extending critical programs such as the CW program and E-2C investor program along with it. Murkowski chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which conducted the hearing.

During the hearing, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) asked Torres if he knows of any unpaid workers on Saipan, to which he responded that he was unaware of such.

In a statement issued by a representative of the workers, it said it is “hard to understand” how Torres does not know about the unpaid workers on Saipan.

“On Dec. 12, 2017, both Saipan Tribune and Marianas Variety reported about unpaid workers still in the island,” the statement claimed, adding that even the local television station ran stories on the issue.

The statement cited a previous story from a local media outlet that quoted CNMI Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente as saying that, “IPI is really under no obligation to offer [the workers] back wages…” and that it was not the CNMI DOL’s job to “assist tourists.”

“It is one thing if [Torres] and the CNMI government will not investigate, let alone require that Imperial Pacific pay these workers their unpaid wages and liquidated damages. However, Gov. Torres must at least be honest with the U.S. Senate that these casino construction workers remain on Saipan—now for over 10 months—without having been paid what they are owed under federal law,” the statement further stated, after citing several reports of the unpaid worker situation in local media outlets.

A statement from the Torres administration clarified with Saipan Tribune that issues on back wages owed were addressed in November 2017 by the U.S. Department of Labor after determining that the case was outside of the CNMI Department of Labor’s jurisdiction.

“[Torres] believed that because it is outside of the CNMI’s jurisdiction, that the federal authorities would resolve it from their end,” press secretary Kevin Bautista said.

“U.S. DOL informed the administration in November that there was a settlement reached with the contractors who hired these individuals to come to the CNMI and work illegally,” Bautista said, adding that U.S. DOL could not provide the administration with the settlement details because the cases involved an “international settlement.”

Bautista added that the remaining workers were informed by U.S. DOL that in order for them to receive their back wages from the settlement, they would have to go back to China and open a bank account in their name.

“They were instructed by U.S. DOL in their language, in writing, and in person back in November 2017,” noted Bautista, adding that CNMI DOL was there to make sure that the workers received their back wages and an airline ticket from IPI beginning on Sept. 28, 2017, to Nov. 22, 2017.

Despite IPI and U.S. DOL’s offers, the remaining workers have refused to accept and demanded more money from U.S. DOL. The workers reportedly demanded for compensation since the time when they stopped working up to the present and Bautista noted that the U.S. DOL told them that could only be paid the back wages for the hours they claimed to have worked for the contractor.

“The CNMI DOL or the administration has no jurisdiction to intervene in the matter. In the interest of humanitarian need, the administration advocated that these workers are still taken cared of. IPI then offered the workers meals, housing, and utilities at no charge,” Bautista stated.

“Given that these workers were here as overstaying tourists, in accordance with federal immigration law, CNMI DOL, under the advice of U.S. DOL, gave the list of names to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE,” he continued, adding that despite having no jurisdiction in the matter, CNMI DOL has “properly coordinated and assisted” U.S. DOL.

“…These workers have continually refused to accept the offer, all while IPI has offered them meals, housing, and utilities at no charge. As stated in previous public statements, the governor denounces the illegal practices by these contractors and has implemented strict local measures to mandate proper employee documentation in order to better assist our federal partners in the enforcement of labor laws.”

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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