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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (April 14, 1999 -Samoa News)---Allegations that five Vietnamese workers at Daewoosa Samoa fell into a coma because they were frightened and starving are untrue, according to testimony before the House Rules Committee on Monday.

However, an independent eyewitness testified he saw scratches on some of the Vietnamese workers, which raised the concerns of the Committee of possible abuse at the garment manufacturing plant in Tafuna.

This was the most damaging testimony against Daewoosa Samoa, according to closing remarks by the Committee Chairman, Representative S. E. Sala.

The hearing was held in response to allegations outlined in a letter from Vietnam’s U.S. Ambassador that was sent to Congressman Faleomavaega Eni. Daewoosa lawyer Malaetasi Mauga Togafau and company president/owner Mr. Lee appeared before the Committee with a Korean/Samoan translator for Lee, who speaks very little English.

Togafau outlined for the Committee his view of the issue at hand (see following report).

During the hearing, Sala presented the serious allegations in Vietnamese Ambassador Le Van Bang’s letter. One statement was that "the women had been working for two months without pay."

"Is this true?" asked the Chairman. During the first translation of this question by the interpreter to Lee, it seems that the answer was "no." But when it was translated again, the response was "yes."

According to Lee, the $100 pay for the first month, as outlined in the employment contract, has now been paid. However, he said the company was waiting for the Vietnamese workers to sign a new contract in compliance with local minimum wage laws and that he planned to pay them the difference to bring the illegal wages up to the proper amount.

Togafau added that all checks under the new Daewoosa Samoa employment contract had been prepared, but he claimed the Vietnamese employees did not want to sign a new contract.

According to Ambassador Bang’s letter, "we have been informed that five of the women fainted and went into coma as a result of the abuse."

Not so, according to Lee. But Togafau added that four Vietnamese women fainted and were taken by EMS to the hospital where they were treated and released.

The company’s lawyer also stated that it might have been the tense situation which added to the incident. Togafau said, "one of the woman just fainted while she was sitting," noting that he was at the company’s compound during this incident.

Ambassador Dang’s letter also stated that "50 women are severely abused, frightened and starving." Lee once again testified through the interpreter that this never happened.

Togafau added that there was only one day in which they were not given food.

When Sala completed his line of questioning based on Ambassador Bang’s letter, independent witness Ray Wyberski testified how he and his wife came into contact with these Vietnamese women, whose immigration sponsorship and employment contracts have since been terminated by Daewoosa Samoa.

According to Wyberski’s testimony, these Vietnamese women came to his jewelry store on their way to the Social Security Office and they made friends with his wife. "They looked like they wanted to talk, but they were scared. One of the women speaks some English," said Wyberski.

"The English speaking Vietnamese woman later called Wyberski’s wife, which was a Saturday night (March 27) ‘seeking help.’ The call came again on Sunday morning, the following day, and arrangements were made to meet the women at the NAPA store," said Wyberski.

During this Sunday meeting, Wyberski told the Committee the Vietnamese women said they were not fed, had not been paid for seven weeks and they were crying and scared.

Although he admitted being hesitant, he said, "I believe them. They were not fed for one day. I don’t care if they were not fed for one day, or one hour, but the point is they were not fed."

"Although the company did not provide them food, they (Vietnamese workers) went to the Samoans working at the company to get some food. So they did eat that day," said Togafau as he tried to justify the event.

Wyberski said he approached his faipule (Representative Muavaefaatasi) seeking help. He also elaborated on the activities between Sunday night up until mid Monday when the situation apparently got out of hand. Later in the day, the three women’s fate was decided with Lee’s decision to terminate their employment and have the women placed in jail.

"This is not right. They are foreigners, they did not do anything wrong," said Wyberski. He also testified that when he went down to see the women at the Daewoosa Plant, other Vietnamese workers were crying as they stood inside the fence. He said they were scared because their friends were handcuffed and put in jail.

Wyberski also said that while he was standing on the road looking at the Vietnamese women inside the company’s fence, "I saw scratches on them."

There was a statement similar to that made by two local women to Samoa News.

The two women also told Samoa News that the company’s security guard chased them away from the area and called the police. Wyberski repeated this statement in front of the committee.

Togafau dismissed the scratches and Lee said one of the Vietnamese women who was terminated speaks only a little English and went on to say that nothing was done to them.

Both faipule Vasai Fred Vasai and Muavaefaatasi Ae Ae, Jr. quickly raised concerns over this issue. Togafau said the Attorney General and DPS were called to investigate and they should have a report.

"This gentlemen’s (Wyberski’s) testimony before this Committee about you and your company, although it is not substantiated, is still damaging," Representative Sala said to Lee.

"There is a great possibility that the women might have been abused without your knowledge because you don’t live in the same building as them," continued Sala.

"You testified that you did not know about the scratches, but this gentleman personally testified about it. The women might not be abused during working hours while you are there, but you are not there all the time," concluded Representative Sala.

None of the Vietnamese women were called to give their views of the allegations.


By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (April 14, 1999 - Samoa News)---The Immigration Board has been requested to grant a 30-day extension for the former Daewoosa Samoa employees to remain here while allegations of abuse at the company’s Tafuna plant are being investigated.

The request came from Attorney Barry Rose and is supported by Attorney General Toetagata Albert Mailo in letters to Senator Tuilefano M. Vaelau, Chairman of the Immigration Board.

Senator Tuilefano could not be reached yesterday to confirm whether the Immigration Board has granted the request.

Rose’s letter named four former Daewoosa Samoa employees who "have been forced to leave the Daewoosa Samoan compound" and are currently being "housed and fed by the American Samoa Government at ASO’s emergency shelter."

The women’s immigration sponsorship with Daewoosa Samoa and their employment contact with the company have been terminated.

"Our firm is presently investigating serious allegations related to our clients’ employment with Daewoosa Samoa. Some of these allegations, if true, would be civil law violations while others if true, would be criminal law violations," Rose explained to the Immigration Board.

Rose requested that the women be granted "a minimum thirty day extension of the current authorization to remain in America Samoa."

According to Rosa, "this extension will permit our firm and the Office of the Attorney General the time necessary to conduct a thorough and complete investigation of all the allegations made against Daewoosa Samoa."

Rose hopes that the matter will be resolved within the 30-day extension and "that my clients will voluntarily consent to leave American Samoa.

"However, at this time, for a number of reasons, and based on my advise, my clients do not voluntary consent to depart the Territory. Therefore, if at any time, the government deems it necessary to deport these women, I would request that a hearing be held before the Immigration Board as required by law," Rose pointed out.

Toetagata also wrote to Tuilefano supporting the request for a 30-day immigration extension "because of legal concerns raised by the operations of Daewoosa Samoa, including possible violation, it is necessary for these individuals to be present in American Samoa."

Toetagata also noted that a temporary Restraining Order had been issued by the High Court, forbidding ASG from deporting these Vietnamese women without a hearing.

In conclusion, Toetagata informed Tuilefano to be "rest assured that my office intends to continue holding Daewoosa Samoa, the sponsor for these individuals, responsible for the cost of retaining these women in American Samoa until they depart."

Governor Tauese Sunia recently told Samoa News that he is personally involved in this matter and has assured the public and the three Vietnamese women "that we will get to the bottom of this issue and find out what actually happened."

Tauese said he does not want American Samoa to be labeled as "a place where owners of businesses can abuse workers like some other places in the Pacific."

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