IPI, HANMI to repatriate CWs

IPI believes CNMI tourism not to begin until May 2021

Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC workers. (KRIZEL TUAZON)

With may hotels and Saipan’s lone casino remaining closed and with zero tourists entering the CNMI, the Hotel Association of the Northern Marianas Islands and Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC are now working on repatriating hundreds of foreign workers back to their home countries.

HANMI chair Gloria Cavanagh said they are still trying to obtain the overall total of foreign workers they need to send home, but confirms that there are less than 800 in all. Additionally, these workers won’t go on a one-shot flight, but HANMI is still communicating and coordinating with airlines at the moment. She said HANMI is planning to send affected workers by mid- to late September.

As for the cost of how to fund this, Cavanagh said that each member hotel will have to manage the costs as required by law. There is a chance that some employees will be recalled back to the CNMI, she said, but because the process of applying for a permit takes months to process, it will take a while until they will be called back.

Separately, in a letter to CNMI leaders last Tuesday, IPI chief executive officer Donald R. Browne disclosed the company’s plan to send back to their home countries hundreds of their employees, saying the company believes that tourism to the CNMI will not likely resume until May 2021.

IPI closed its casino last March due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Browne said it does not appear that international flights will resume until January 2021. In all likelihood, IPI will remain closed and have no income for the next eight months, he said.

Added costs

He said IPI has had to furlough hundreds of employees and this has required the company to pay for repatriation costs. Also, in the case of their foreign workers, called CW workers, Browne said that IPI has had to pay three-fourths of what they should have earned even though they will not be working because that is what U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires.

On the construction side, IPI had 266 H-2B workers and 110 local manpower, for a total of 376. The H-2B workers are from Taiwan, Thailand, Mongolia, Australia, and Turkey.

Browne said that when IPI reopens, it will have significant reopening costs as it will have to bring back hundreds of workers.

“Yet to fund all of this IPI will have no income until after it does reopen,” he said.

This was echoed by Cavanagh, who said, “We have to handle the possibility of not opening for another couple of months as long as there are no regular flights because of the pandemic. Once we do open, it will be very challenging to manage,” she said.

Operating costs

Even though IPI has closed the casino, it still has significant operating costs each month that it must pay, he said. IPI must periodically turn on the air-conditioning so that the furnishings do not get moldy and so that the electrical gaming machines do not rust. Browne said IPI also must maintain security even through there is no income to pay these costs.

He said IPI is presently current on all wages owed its remaining employees and is providing its employees that remain on Saipan with health insurance. He said IPI is keeping the power on for its employees who remain in company-provided housing.

License fee

In that same letter, Browne informed Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres, Senate President Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota), House Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan), and other government officials that IPI won’t be able to pay the $15.5 million annual casino license fee that was due last Wednesday.

Citing “force majeure” pursuant to Section 25 of the Casino License Agreement because of the worldwide pandemic, IPI requests an abatement of the casino license fee for the year 2020.

IPI also proposes that payment of the $3 million to support the operations of the Commonwealth Casino Commission that IPI owes by this October, be delayed until 30 days before the scheduled reopening of IPI’s casino in Garapan. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE and JUSTINE NAUTA)

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