The Commonwealth Casino Commission of the Northern Mariana Islands has reached out to developers of the yet to open Imperial Pacific Resort and asked them to solve problems between IPI contractors and the Chinese nationals those contractors have employed to construct the 180,000 sq ft casino and 340 room luxury hotel in the heart of Garapan.

According to an article in the Pacific Island Report, IPI legal counsel met with commission members Thursday to address concerns and report on solutions to a worker crisis that is contributing to the much-anticipated casino resort’s delayed opening. According to the report, commissioners warned IPI that unresolved labor issues resulting in worker rallies and protests across the island may be tarnishing the casino investor’s reputation – and that could have far-reaching consequences.

Federal officials have said that many of the hundreds of workers employed by contractors came to the island as tourists. Some of the workers say they paid recruitment fees of up to $10,000 dollars before leaving China to work in Saipan which is a municipality of the CNMI of the United States and subject to certain US federal laws and regulations.

Workers have told local media that they make less than $44 for nine hours work and about $7.25 per hour for overtime. One contractor, Gold Mantis, seems to not be paying their workers at all and, as of Thursday, the labor secretary for the government there has not been able to reach Gold Mantis company officials in order to get the striking workers paid and sent home to China.

IPI has issued public and private statements to the contractors admonishing them to operate under the terms of their contracts and to come into compliance with the law. According to a report in the Saipan Tribune, IPI legal counsel Charles McDonalds has said that canceling the contracts of several contractors and subcontractors working on the resort is one option they are considering.

CCC commissioner Alvaro Santos warned IPI that public perception of the situation could not only tarnish the developer’s reputation but could interfere with efforts to raise caps on CW1 visa workers – which could affect not only IPI’s long range plans for the island but all tourism and even the local economy and the government’s reputation.

He noted that recent events may feed into a small but vocal contingent of “naysayers” who never supported the casino industry in the first place and who may take advantage of the situation to further aggravate things. “The naysayers will have a party. It is an opportunity for them to further aggravate the situation. They would enjoy this,” said Santo.

McDonalds said they have met with contractors who have stated they will pay the workers and get them back home. He went on to say, “They assured us that their employees are getting paid and they are working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and [Department of Labor] to address all the employees’ concerns and send them back home,” according to a report in Marina Variety, which has followed the situation closely.

One of the contractors, MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. has reached a final agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor wherein; “189 workers are being fully paid their wages and other compensation, and repatriated to their homes in China. On a daily basis for more than a week, MCC Saipan has worked closely with representatives and attorneys from the U.S. Department of Labor to address the needs of the workers.”

Marianas Variety also reports that the local department of labor is tracking down officials of Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC. Gold Mantis is alleged to have not paid 80 workers for the last month and a half. These are workers who came to the island as ‘tourists’.

Counsel for IPI reportedly told commissioners, “We are taking this issue seriously. We respect each and everyone’s opinion. This crisis is very unfortunate, but our best way to rectify it is to fast-track the construction project and that’s why we are focusing on finishing the casino so we can prove to everyone that we are here to stay and are committed to the CNMI and to this industry.”

Commission Chairman Juan Sablan said, “This is a very serious issue and the governor, the Legislature and our U.S. congressman are also very concerned about the situation.”

IPI counsel said the company is still optimistic about opening at least the casino portion of the project soon, that he wasn’t aware of the extent of any delays, and that the company is currently working on a license agreement extension.

IPI is reportedly set to meet with the Lottery Commission on April 24 to try to keep their temporary casino in DFS Galleria open in the interim, and that the company is awaiting Department of Public Works approval in order to open the casino portion of the property.

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