CNMI Labor Issues

September 4, 2008

Comment on PL 15-108!
Guest workers should take the opportunity to comment on PL 15-108. The CNMI Department of Labor held a meeting with business owners to get their input on the law in order to make needed amendments. The law affects not only businesses, but employees including tens of thousands of disenfranchised foreign contract workers.


The Saipan Tribune reported that the Chamber of Commerce hosted DOL officials in the first of a series of planned meeting with the community "to obtain input from the community on what amendments they can propose to the controversial Public Law 15-108, or the new reform labor law." The article said:

Labor Deputy Secretary Cinta Kaipat, Labor director Barry Hirshbein, and volunteer consultant and Labor administrative hearing officer Deanne Siemer met with officials and representatives of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands at Labor's conference room yesterday morning.

Kaipat, Hirshbein and Siemer were also set to meet with lawyers who represent foreign national workers yesterday afternoon. They will also meet with Bar Association members and representatives of various non-profit organizations of alien workers.

The main concerns raised by Chamber and HANMI participants yesterday were the employers' liability for workers who do not transfer and how Immigration is going to deal with those workers. Others also wanted to know, among other things, how to replace, transfer, or bring in workers.

Kaipat, the author of P.L. 15-108, told Saipan Tribune that the meeting with the Chamber and HANMI went “great.”

Kaipat said the meeting was intended to get comments from the business community and other segments of the community about the implementation of P.L. 15-108.
The photo that accompanied the article showed about 16 people in attendance, certainly not a large representation of the businesses on Saipan. The article did not mention whether or not meetings would be conducted on Rota and Tinian.

Workers who can not attend meetings could send comment to the Department of Labor. I encourage every worker with a concern about this law to express his or her views on the regulations and policies of PL 15-108. What works? What needs to be changed? What needs clarification? Do you agree with notice by publication? Are the policies and regulations enforced the same on every island?

Here are the contacts for DOL:

CNMI Department of Labor
Afetnas Building, 2nd Floor
San Antonio Saipan, MP 96950

Postal Address:
P.O. Box 10007
Saipan, MP 96950

Fax: 1-670-236-0991

Rep. Sablan Resigns from JGO

Representative Tina Sablan joined Representative Edward Salas in resigning from the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations. The Saipan Tribune reports:

In a letter to the Committee chair Rosemond Santos, Sablan decried not being given an opportunity to review the committee report, which urged the House of Representatives to shelve her bill, and which the House adopted on Aug. 22, 2008.

Sablan also criticized the committee for the two-page report, suggesting it was too simple to do justice to the legislation and the comments received about it.

“I am most disturbed. that a two-page committee report, which finds a piece of legislation reasonable, potentially beneficial, controversial, and moot, without fully explaining why, and which glosses over numerous testimonies received over three public hearings and a six-week comment period, can be deemed acceptable and sufficient by a majority of the committee members and a majority of the House,” she said.

“I find these and other JGO committee practices to be improper and irreconcilable with my own views of what responsible lawmaking should entail. I therefore feel that my resignation as a member of the committee is in order,” she added.

The Marianas Variety also covered the story:

Sablan said the fact that they are the sponsors of the bill in question is immaterial — of greater concern is the manner in which the committee acts on measures referred to it.

“The fact that both Rep. Salas and I had been authors of the bill in question — H.B. 16-86 — is beside the point. I am most disturbed, instead, by several key issues: That committee decisions can be made, and committee action taken, outside of properly assembled committee meetings…that duly appointed committee members can be excluded from reviewing and commenting on a committee report if their views are expected to be in conflict with the views of the chair,” Sablan told Santos.

Kaipat Responds to Reps. Salas and Sablan

It wasn't enough for Secretary San Nicolas to respond to a letter from Reps. Salas and Sablan, DOL Deputy Secretary Cinta Kaipat penned a response of her own to Rep. Tina Sablan comparing her view of just foreign labor laws to what she perceived were the legislator's view. Her letter was published it in the Saipan Tribune.

In typical Kaipat style, she distorted the intent of what Rep. Sablan had presented in HB 16-86 and in the letter penned by Reps. Salas and Sablan. There are just many arguments to what Kaipat stated and I have addressed them before in previous posts, so I will just focus on the issue of bias. It is not just Reps. Salas and Sablan who have accused the Deputy Secretary of improper statements against foreign contract workers. Her unprofessional remarks have been attacked by advocates, attorneys, the media, and guest workers. They have not gone unnoticed by federal officials. No matter how she and San Nicolas spin it, she publicly made biased, and even racist remarks about guest workers. She was called on all of them, and never issued an apology or an explanation to the guest workers. She has repeatedly made inappropriate generalizations about the guest workers as pointed out in my letter to San Nicolas, in a letter to the editor by Attorney Mark Hanson, in letters from guest workers, and in the recent letter from Reps. Salas and Sablan. Why can't she just admit it and apologize?

I hope that the new federal guest worker program is a just and democratic one that will protect the rights of every worker. No just agency, department or government would sit back for two decades and watch a parade of hundreds upon hundreds of cheated workers repatriated or deported to their homelands without the wages they were owed. One would have thought that the desperation of Buddhi Dhimal who died after he set himself on fire in front of the Department of Labor, would have been a wake up call. Instead the DOL continues to make 6.1 million excuses for the $6.1 million plus in unpaid wages and other injustices suffered by the guest workers.