Department of Labor - Refusing to Investigate Labor Complaint

September 15, 2008

For decades I have protested the fact that the CNMI DOL has consistently refused to do its job - whether it has been piling up a backlog of labor cases, refusing to enforce judgments, or failing to hold employers or bonding companies accountable.  The CNMI Department of Labor's Deputy Secretary now states that the department will not look into a labor complaint.  

According to the Marianas Variety ,"The Department of Labor says it will not look into a labor complaint referred by the Federal Ombudsman’s Office involving a local resident who continues to employ guest workers, using a religious group as a front, despite a ban imposed by Labor." Once again it is proven that the DOL ignores employers' violations and allows foreign contract workers to be cheated by not enforcing laws.

Employers who have been found to violate the law have repeatedly been allowed to hire new employees even though they owe previous employees back wages, or have violated other CNMI or labor laws.  Some who have been allowed to hire foreign contract workers have even been placed on a "barred list " for violating labor law as today's Marianas Variety.   I would like to see who is on the "barred list" and compare it to the list of employers who have unpaid judgments.

The story also reinforces the claim that the Deputy Secretary of Labor is not professional.  It underscores the fact that her judgment is clouded by her dislike of the federal ombudsman who she has repeatedly attacked in letters to the editor,  and in reports that she has sent to the CNMI Legislature.  The  Marianas Variety reported:
According to Benedetto, Bienvenida Camacho has ”induced” and “sponsored” at least four foreign guest workers, including Briones, to come to the CNMI as “tourists” but were later employed by Camacho’s businesses.

Benedetto noted that Camacho has numerous violations, including failure to pay wages, and failure to pay the applicable minimum wage to Briones.

But Kaipat, in her letter to the federal ombudsman, said that when Benedetto prevented Labor from having access to federal funds, “you cut off any funding that might have been available for investigation such as this.”

She added, “I think it would have been better if you came to talk to me about this rather than writing a formal letter.”

According to Benedetto, Camacho utilized foreign workers even though she has been permanently barred from doing so.

“In addition, she may be involved in illegally recruiting foreign national workers in violation of both the Philippine Overseas Employment Act and the laws of the CNMI, by ‘sponsoring’ persons as tourists, then allegedly counseling and assisting them in obtaining missionary permits,” Benedetto said.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S.  Commission on Civil Rights need to investigate the DOL and its policies now.  The CNMI Legislature should also conduct an oversight hearing. 

The DOL is working to support the Fitial Administration's anti-federalization agenda by putting out supporting propaganda, strategically conducting forums, and publishing press releases and letters to the editor to back up claims stated in the federal lawsuit.  It appears DOL has devoted too much time to promoting PL 15-108 and denouncing federalization.  In the end, the department has failed to effectively serve the foreign contract workers,  and the employers and businesses of the CNMI.

Kaipat claimed that Benedetto cut off funds that could have been used for investigations. DOL and Fitial refused the funds because they did not want to be held accountable for how they were used as this Saipan Tribune story elaborates:
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial has brought to the attention of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne his feud with federal officials over the CNMI labor and immigration initiative grants.

In a letter dated Nov. 7, Fitial told Kempthorne that he had declined the $420,000 grant because of unnecessary and unreasonable conditions which Deputy Assistant Secretary David B. Cohen and Federal Ombudsman Jim Benedetto seek to impose on the CNMI...
Cohen previously said there is no reason the CNMI government should forfeit the $420,000 grant, as well as possible addition of $500,000, simply because the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs is taking steps to ensure that U.S. taxpayer funds are properly spent.

“Our CNMI Initiative grants are not and never have been a blank check to the CNMI government. These are U.S. taxpayer funds, and my office has a duty to ensure that the funds are allocated effectively to address important needs in labor and immigration,” Cohen said.
Any grant, federal or otherwise, has requirements.  It is clear that is was DOL and Fitial who refused federal funds, not Benedetto who cut off funds.  Kaipat recently declared that the local labor system was better than the federal system, yet they don't even have funds for an investigation?  What do they even need funds to investigate? It looks like the ombudsman provided the information for DOL.  They have funds to conduct numerous forums and to promote their propaganda, yet no funds to carryout their job.  DOL - do your job!


Anonymous said...

PL 15-108 It's a good law.