Workers: We’re still here

FIVE construction workers from China who arrived on the island as tourists and who have been demanding their back-wages for 10 months now are still on island.

They said they are struggling to get a decent meal and a decent home, but are still hoping to get their unpaid wages so they can all finally return to their country. The workers were employed by a subcontractor of Imperial Pacific International.

Asked for comment, Press Secretary Kevin Bautista on Thursday said the workers were offered back wages by Imperial Pacific International but they refused to accept them while demanding additional compensation.

“At the recent U.S. Senate committee hearing, the governor was asked questions about how the CNMI government is doing its part to ensure the safety of workers as well as cracking down on illegal labor practices in the commonwealth,” Bautista said.

“The governor responded to the senator’s concerns, noting that, since news first broke of illegal employment, the CNMI Department of Labor has implemented strict measures that require employers to properly document foreign employees and ensure that proper documentation is be made available at any given time to both the CNMI DOL and the U.S. DOL.

“The administration has also reached out to industry leaders to not only prioritize U.S. workers, but also to ensure that foreign workers on island are legitimate.”

Bautista said the governor “mentioned that the issues on back wages owed were addressed in November of last year by the U.S. DOL after they determined that the case is outside of the CNMI DOL’s jurisdiction. He believed that because it was outside the CNMI’s jurisdiction that the federal authorities would resolve it from their end. 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. The U.S. DOL could not provide us with the settlement details because ‘the case involved an international settlement, and not just with the CNMI…’

“The remaining workers were informed by the U.S. DOL that in order for them to claim 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 the U.S. DOL in their language, in writing, and in person back in November 2017. The CNMI DOL was there to observe that these workers had been provided compensation (claimed back-wages) and an airline ticket from IPI, beginning on Sept. 28, 2017 and up to Nov. 22, 2017.”

According to Bautista, “The remaining individuals refused the IPI offer and the U.S. DOL offer. They are aware of the options, and have demanded more money from the U.S. DOL, such as ‘wages for the time that they stopped working, to the present.’ U.S. DOL told them that they can only be paid back wages for the hours they claimed to have worked for the contractor. Neither the CNMI DOL nor the administration has jurisdiction to intervene in the matter. In the interest of humanitarian need, the administration advocated that these workers be still taken care of. IPI then offered the workers meals, housing, and utilities at no charge.”

Bautista added, “Given that these workers were here as overstaying tourists, in accordance with federal immigration law, the CNMI DOL, under the advice of the U.S. DOL, gave the list of names to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In summary, the CNMI government does not have jurisdiction in the settlement case regarding these workers. The CNMI DOL, in its local capacity, has properly coordinated and assisted the U.S. DOL in making sure that these workers receive their back wages for the hours they worked for the contractor, amounts that are certified by the U.S. DOL. However, the workers have continually refused to accept the offer, all while IPI has offered them meals, housing, and utilities at no charge. As he has 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.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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