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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (June 28, 2000 –PIDP/CPIS)---Congressman Eni Faleomavaega is going to ask U.S. authorities for an investigation into the alleged mistreatment of workers at the Daewoosa Samoa garment plant in the territory.

The investigation, according to Faleomavaega, will follow up on more complaints he has received about apparent mistreatment of workers.

"I seriously question, as a matter of policy, the current situation of employing workers from communist countries," said the congressman. "I have received more complaints about the treatment of these workers at Daewoosa Samoa and will get the federal government to look into this."

Foreign workers were first brought into the territory five years ago when the first garment plant was opened. But the garment company, BCTC-Samoa, closed down three years later due to stiff competition from low wage countries. The company moved its operations to South America.

BCTC-Samoa had no problems sending its 300 Chinese workers back to China.

Former Daewoosa Samoa general manager Robert Tagovailoa said there was never any mistreatment of foreign workers. He said the workers were fed three meals a day and housed in company dormitories.

But Tagovailoa confirmed that the workers were not paid on a timely manner, in accordance with local and federal laws, prompting a civil violation fine levied by the U.S. Department of Labor last week against the company.

Tagovailoa left the company last week over disagreement with the management style of the company.

But Faleomavaega said there are serious concerns regarding the recruiting of workers in Vietnam by unknown brokers. "Another serious question is, are these workers indebted to the company and the brokers?"

"Some workers coming here are been abused and paid less than they were promised by the brokers," said the congressman. "This information was given to me and I will make an appointment to meet with Daewoosa."

Faleomavaega’s concerns come just a few day after a local organization called Concerned Citizens for Asian Workers CCAW) was formed to try and combat abuse against imported Asian (mostly Vietnamese) employees of Daewoosa Samoa

In a statement this week, the group stated that Daewoosa’s more than 300 Vietnamese workers were initially attracted to their jobs by offers of from $700 to $1,000 per month and free food and housing.

"They had to pay a minimum of $4,000 to work in American Samoa," the statement revealed. "Some were exploited in Vietnam and had to pay over $8,000. These large sums were loaned from family and friends.

"After arriving [in American Samoa], some of the workers had to pay large amounts to their employer [Daewoosa] for ‘immigration’ purposes, although they are unable to discern if those funds were actually used for this purpose," the statement continued.

The group urged lawmakers to pass legislation preventing future importation of Asian labor until a working contract is locally approved and found to be legal.

Faleomavaega said the continued importation of foreign workers for garment factories, especially from communist countries, is a very serious issue for the local labor force and in the political arena.

"Are we so desperate that we need foreigner workers? Is this a short term or long term need?" asked Faleomavaega.

Faleomavaega’s statement is mirrored by similar concerns publicly raised by the territorial government's Immigration Board in recent weeks over requests by garment plants to import more workers.

The Board’s is not convinced that importing foreign workers is the only way that some of these companies can function here and some of the proposed garment plants are been asked to justify the need to import so many foreign workers.

Faleomavaega said the federal investigation could also involve a probe into whether Daewoosa Samoa is a financially stable company.

The Immigration Board is also seeking further information from proposed garment companies on their financial stability to operate and house imported workers.

"Another issue at hand, does Daewoosa have the capability to return these people back to their homeland, similar to BCTC?" Faleomavaega asked.

Tagovailoa said none of the foreign workers wants to return to their homeland. One of the Vietnamese workers gave birth two months ago, and this is one sticky situation that will involve a lot of diplomatic negotiations.

According to Faleomavaega, he does not want American Samoa to face the same problems as when a garment company in Saipan closed down without notice and the owners disappeared. The company left behind more than 700 foreign workers without jobs, without a way of returning to their homeland, not to mention outstanding loans.

He said he is fearful that something like this will happen here. "As I said before, I remain concerned with the operation of the garment industry in the territory," he added.

Another difficult situation that could occur is when workers claim political asylum. And Faleomavaega recalled the Sri Lanka fiasco several years ago, placing the local government in the middle as the political debate on the fate of these people continued.

"We sure don’t want this type of situation happening again," he concluded.

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