Governor says hiring US workers remains top priority

GOVERNOR Ralph D.L.G. Torres said he is proud of his administration’s efforts to expand the local workforce in the CNMI.

Asked about concerns regarding CNMI labor issues expressed by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski during the hearing of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, Torres said his administration is “cognizant of the fact that they need to do more in terms of recruiting U.S. citizens and NMI permanent resident workers to be able to build a stronger and sustainable workforce in the commonwealth to meet the demands of recent development.”

He added, “I understand and appreciate the concerns and issues raised by Chairwoman Murkowski and the committee. We are proud of the effort we have made in getting more U.S. workers and the results we have been able to achieve over the last several years. We are cognizant of the fact that we need to do more, and we have been exploring ways to efficiently recruit and train more U.S. workers here at home, within Micronesia, and from the mainland. That remains a top priority.”

But, he added, “I want to be clear. We have no interest in reverting back to the days of the garment factories. We will be responsive and proactive in addressing these serious concerns and ensure our growth takes place responsibly for our workers — both foreign and domestic — and for our people. We have learned the difficult lessons of the past, and the U.S. senators and I share the same concerns. Together we will ensure that we make every effort to do this right so that our economy continues to grow and our commonwealth’s progress continues to flourish.”

In his testimony before the committee, the governor said he informed the U.S. senators that although the CNMI is facing so many challenges, there is still a success story that he wanted to highlight, and these are the increase in revenues by 89 percent, an increase in GDP by 17 percent, the reduction in the number of food stamp recipients and the efforts to move them into the labor pool, the appropriation of $9 million to start paying land compensation and judgments, the payment of the government’s other old debts and the good and fair treatment of some 11,000 nonresident workers compared to the 1,000 nonresident workers who claim not to have been treated fairly by their employers.

Torres was asked by Murkowski and the other U.S. senators about the “tourists” working in the CNMI as construction workers.

Murkowski said the CNMI should be accountable and aggressive in addressing these issues to ensure that workers will not be abused and that they are safe and protected.

Torres said the Legislature is working on measures to ensure the workers’ safety, and to strengthen local laws against illegal hiring and money laundering.

Asked about the jobless rate in the CNMI, the governor said he will provide the committee with “correct data,” adding that it is around 4 to 6 percent and that 600 are in the local DOL labor pool.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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