The US Department of Labor (USDOL) has ordered the payment of US$13.9 million in back wages and damages to former workers on Saipan’s Imperial Pacific Resort.
The ruling follows a finding by investigators for USDOL’s Wage and Hour Division that four construction companies contracted by operator Imperial Pacific International (IPI) – MCC International Saipan Ltd Co, Beilida New Materials System Engineering Co Ltd, Gold Mantis Construction Decoration and Sino Great Wall International Engineering Co LLC – had paid workers below the minimum wage required under the US Fair Labor Standards Act.
The US$13.9 million applies to more than 2,400 Chinese construction workers that were illegally brought to Saipan as “tourists” in order to work on Imperial Pacific Resort.
MCC International, IPI’s former lead contractor, has been at the heart of investigations into the use of illegal workers, with FBI agents raiding its offices and arresting two people last April for hiring illegal workers following the death of a 43-year-old Chinese national who fell from scaffolding last March.
In a statement released on Tuesday, IPI said, “Imperial Pacific is pleased that there is finally a resolution to the claims lodged by the Chinese construction workers hired by IPI contractors and subcontractors to construct the Imperial Palace casino-resort.
“While IPI is not privy to the terms of the settlement, Imperial expresses its utmost appreciation to the United States DOL and all parties that were involved in the settlement. IPI will continue to cooperate with all stakeholders and follow all local and federal laws and regulations.”
The office of Governor Ralph Torres also released a statement in which it said, “We support the USDOL’s findings that not only back wages, but also liquidated damages are to be paid to employees who were adversely affected at no fault of their own.
“We also support the USDOL’s enforcement of labor laws. As previously stated, the governor denounces the illegal practices of 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. Let’s be clear. This administration and our community will not tolerate illegal employment practices that harm both workers and our economic viability.”
The Torres administration has come under heavy fire in recent times following an explosive Bloomberg report alleging local officials had turned a blind eye to illegal practices being employed on the site of Imperial Pacific Resort.
Despite the USDOL’s decision, the issue is yet to be fully resolved with five former MCC construction workers remaining in Saipan after refusing previous offers by IPI to pay back wages.
In a statement published by Marianas Variety, the workers said, “Many of our MCC coworkers returned home nearly one year ago. They received the back pay they were owed, liquidated damages and compensation for their recruitment fees.
“We have been told that there is another settlement with MCC that should include us, but nobody has told us how much money we will each receive, nobody has said when we will actually receive the money. So how can we return home and face the people who loaned us money to come here?
“We cannot simply tell the loan sharks that there is a press release. We need to give them money. At one point, Imperial Pacific offered to pay us only our back pay if we agreed to return China, but this would not even cover our debt, so we refused.
“In retaliation, Imperial Pacific then stopped providing us with housing, food, or water. Imperial Pacific benefits every day from the casino we built. Why don’t they pay us the back pay, liquidated damages and recruitment fees that our coworkers received?”