23 Nov 2018
- By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa & Bryan Manabat
Photo by David Butterfield
SIXTY laid-off workers of Imperial Pacific International gathered outside the casino in Garapan on Friday morning, and carried signs that read “We Need Answer,” “Hear Us!!!” among other things. They said they were not staging a protest, but were seeking a dialogue with IPI’s management. They want to know why were they laid off; what was the basis for it; and how did management decide who to lay off.
Asked for comment, IPI said it will issue a statement on Sunday. For its part, a Commonwealth Casino Commission official said IPI, like any other businesses on island, is suffering due to Typhoon Yutu.
But Joseph Noel Napasaran, the workers’ designated spokesman, said they cannot accept the reason that they were laid off because of Typhoon Yutu, adding that casino operations are ongoing. “We don’t hear anything from management. What is the plan? Who will answer our questions?”
Napasaran said did not receive any support from the management after Typhoon Yutu, “then suddenly, this mass layoff of employees.” He added, “What really hurts is that after we served IPI for a long-time, they did not even bother to give us an earlier notice that we were going to be laid off. Instead, they called us group by group on separate days so no one could complain.”
Napasaran said they will receive a seven-day severance pay and approved leave credits. However, he added, most of them had used up their leave after the typhoon. “What will happen to us? Seven-day severance pay? It’s not enough.”
Napasaran said they had consulted with the CNMI and U.S. labor departments and were told that “IPI during a calamity or a disaster can shut down business operations.”
However, he said, even before Typhoon Yutu, there were issues they wanted clarified but the IPI management, he added, never replied to their request for answers. “Maybe they’re avoiding us because they don’t want a repeat of what happened in 2016 when IPI management could not reply to the questions we asked them. If IPI management would just communicate with us, maybe we could come up with something that is beneficial to both parties.”
Two other laid-off IPI employees, Edeson Pavo and Jubie Maderal, said they were aware of the “rally” outside the casino, but they could not join because they were busy with other matters.
Pavo, a mechanical engineer from the Philippines with an hourly rate of $25, was hired on Nov. 8, 2017. His CW-1 permit has just been renewed and was supposed to expire in Nov. 2019. He said he received a letter from IPI on Nov. 13, informing him that he was being laid off because of the “unforeseeable circumstances that the company is now experiencing” after Typhoon Yutu. He said he and four other engineers were hired by IPI last year but he was the only one who was laid off. He will receive a total of $4,000 in seven-day severance pay and paid time off.
Maderal, an air-conditioning maintenance staff member, was hired in May 2017. His contract was renewed until 2019, but he was laid off on Nov. 16. His salary is $8 per hour, and he will get a seven-day severance pay amounting to $1,700.
Payo and Maderal are staying in the IPI barracks in San Antonio, and were told to stay there until Dec. 13 or 15 or when their plane tickets to the Philippines are already available.
Like the other laid-off workers, they want to know the basis of management’s decision to terminate their contracts. They said that as far as they know, they have performed well. Since Nov. 12, they added, over 200 employees have been laid, and that an additional 300 will also lose their jobs.
‘Worst case scenario’
In an interview, Commonwealth Casino Commission Chairman Juan Sablan said IPI informed the commission about the layoffs last week. He said IPI made a business decision to reduce its workforce so it can avoid the “worst case scenario” which is to shut down the casino.
“Originally their plan was to close the casino temporarily but then they decided to re-open it on reduced hours and with a reduced number of workers,” Sablan said. “The action is justified and understandable. Even the other businesses on island are suffering and shutting down because of the damage caused by typhoon. I am hoping that IPI and the other businesses recover quickly from this devastation, but recovery takes time. We do need the tourists to come here again, but we don’t want them to see junk everywhere. Even if we are ready to accept tourists again, we cannot expect that they would want to come here. If I were a tourist, why would I come here to see nothing but debris and fallen trees? It will take some time before we can return to normal operations.”
He added, “I am appealing to the workers for their understanding. This is something that we did not anticipate to happen. IPI did not anticipate this kind of devastation. I hope the workers understand the situation. Everybody is suffering now. Some areas on island still don’t have water and power. This storm is one of the strongest in U.S. history. At least IPI’s construction continues. They are still committed to finish the project and they have just re-opened the casino rather than closing it.”
Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/109029-60-laid-off-casino-employees-seek-answers-from-management