Stop abusing workers at the Imperial Pacific construction site in Saipan

29 August 2018 20:47

Over 30 workers protested for not being paid overtime on Thursday last week. Photo: David Butterfield 

Migrant workers building the Imperial Pacific casino and resort on the island of Saipan, which is part of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, have suffered abuses such as unpaid wages, severe injuries, and retaliation. Last year, a worker fell to his death due to the illegal, poor safety conditions at the site.

The casino project is being developed by a Hong Kong-based company, Imperial Pacific International Holdings Limited. Initially, Imperial Pacific contracted with some of China’s biggest construction companies, including the state-owned MCC and publicly-traded Gold Mantis, to do the work as cheaply and quickly as possible. These companies took advantage of a policy permitting Chinese tourists to enter Saipan without a visa to bring in Chinese migrant workers, who were charged thousands of U.S. dollars for the “opportunity” to work in America.

After U.S. law enforcement agencies discovered what was happening, and even arrested several managers of the Chinese companies, the workers were largely sent back to China—but many had not been paid fully for their work. Even months after work stopped, in July 2017, the remaining workers protested for payment. “The casino is scheduled to open soon and will earn Imperial Pacific millions of dollars. But neither the casino nor the companies it hired have paid us – the workers – even the minimum wage for the hours that we spent building it,” said one protesting worker. With the help of BWI’s affiliate the Construction Site General Workers Union and its national center the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, as well as other labor rights advocates, the companies made an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor to pay $14 million in unpaid wages to the workers. 

Imperial Pacific and the local government promised that moving forward, U.S. workers would be used to complete the project. In actuality, Imperial Pacific had applied to bring in over 1,000 guest workers through the H2-B program. It was recently reported that over 600 Filipino migrant workers, as well as many employees from Taiwan, have been hired to complete the delayed project more quickly. For the U.S. workers that were hired, mostly from Guam, a large number were temporarily laid off as more guest workers were brought in. It was recently exposed that Imperial Pacific also continues to use Chinese workers employed by subcontractors. In this case, over forty workers hired by Jiangsu Provincial Construction worked on the casino project for nine months, were never paid overtime, and paid fees in China to get the jobs. They protested just this week to demand the compensation owed to them under U.S. law.

Seeing as the labor abuses continue, several labour law experts – as well as numerous local politicians in Saipan – said that Imperial Pacific should enter into a binding agreement requiring that the casino and its contractors adhere to local, national and international laws and standards on labor, safety, and human rights. The agreement should also establish an independent mechanism to monitor compliance with these obligations. In making this proposal, the experts point to BWI’s work in Qatar as an example of how trade unions and civil society groups can be involved in helping ensure adequate labor conditions for migrant workers