AMERICAN SAMOA LOOKS INTO ALLEGED MISTREATMENT OF VIETNAMESE WORKERS

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By Lave Tuiletufuga

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (March 30, 1999-Samoa Post)---The American Samoa Government (ASG) is looking into allegations that Vietnamese workers imported by Daewoosa-Samoa garment manufacturers are being treated improperly.

The allegations raised by Maoputasi House Representative Muavaefaatasi Ae Ae, Jr. indicate that female workers have been kicked out of the company compound without pay.

More serious allegations imply that the female workers also have been sexually harassed.

The reports, published both by the Samoa Post and the Samoa News, prompted ASG to investigate if there is any substance to the allegations.

Reportedly, Lt. Governor Togiola Tulafono, who represented ASG during negotiations with Daewoosa-Samoa to invest in American Samoa, is leading the ASG team looking into the allegations.

Late Monday evening, four Vietnamese workers with Daewoosa-Samoa were rushed to the LBJ Tropical Medical Center, reportedly suffering from heat stroke.

They were listed in stable condition as of press time last night.

Maoputasi House Representative Muavaefaatasi was quick on the move to investigate the circumstances.

Prior to departing Monday night for Hawai‘i, the retired U.S. Coast Guard member told the Samoa Post that his physical observation of the Daewoosa-plant at Tafuna late yesterday afternoon suggested that "something spooky" was happening there.

Muavaefaatasi said that he was most upset to see Oriental women workers locked outside of the Daewoosa compound while male Oriental workers were guarding the gate to stop the female workers from entering.

"There are also implications that these Oriental workers have not been fed for days nor have they been paid, and it is hideous," said Muavaefaatasi, who is also Chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

"The treatment of these people is outrageous and I hope that during my absence, my colleagues in the House will investigate if the allegations are true," insisted the lawmaker.

But Daewoosa's Chief Executive Officer and President, Kilsoo Lee, through his Plant Manager, Seung Joon Hwang, as translator, attested to the Samoa Post Sunday that the allegations were fabrications and not true.

Lee pointed out that all of the workers on Daewoosa's payroll have been paid their salaries due, except for six Vietnamese women who were getting partial payments because they needed clearance from Vietnam.

That clearance, according to Lee and Hwang, arrived over the weekend, and the checks were to have been cut for the six women yesterday.

Lee said that he was also contemplating returning the women in question back to Vietnam as one alternative to avoid any disruption to Daewoosa's working force.

"They have violated the basic rule by not being honest with their employment applications," added Hwang.

The two company officials also dismissed allegations of inhumane treatment where the imported workers allegedly were not fed for days.

Lee said such reports were ridiculous because all the workers were entitled to meals three times a day.

He noted, however, that the only concerns registered with Daewoosa came from Lt. Governor Togiola Tulafono.

According to Lee, the Lt. Governor wrote to the company, advising Daewoosa to keep its workers away from the nearby Tafuna Government Housing area because of its proximity to the Tafuna Correctional Facilities.

Lee also said that he was very concerned when it was brought to his attention that several Vietnamese ladies were reportedly patronizing their countrymen working on the longliners in port.

Aside from the personnel problem, Lee said that the company was still striving to get its act together for production to start as soon as possible.

Daewoosa long ago completed infrastructure construction, which includes a manufacturing plant, a cafeteria, and dormitories to house the imported workers.

That was two years and six months ago. But financial setbacks have delayed the plant’s start of operations.

The dormitories have 32 rooms which can accommodate 16 bunk beds per room. Included are six showers and six bathrooms and a washing room for hand laundry.

The cafeteria, fully equipment, has seating capacity for 300 people.

Once the plant is in full production, Daewoosa will have 500 employees on its payroll, with 300 from the local workforce pool.

Samoa Post P.O. Box 3618 Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799 Phone: (1-684)-633-5574 Fax: (1-685)-633-5575 E-mail: SamoaPost@samoatelco

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