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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 17) - The contracts of over 100 workers — at least 93 from the Philippines and seven locals — were terminated by major garment firm L&T Corp. "due to economic necessity."

Lynn Knight, vice president for corporate affairs of Tan Holdings Corp., the parent company of L&T, said the reduction in their workforce was caused by a reduction in U.S. orders and the upcoming elimination of garment quotas in 2005.

But the workers claimed they were unjustly terminated and that they would be replaced by Chinese workers.

They went to the Federal Ombudsman’s Office in Garapan on Saturday to discuss their case.

They were allowed to talk with the U.S. Labor Office in Hawaii via teleconference and were told to come back today at 9 a.m.

According to the group’s spokesman, Paul M. Delos Santos, L&T’s former liaison officer, they were handed their termination letters on May 13, signed by Ma. Luisa Dela Cruz-Ernest, the human resources manager of L&T, which is owned by garment magnate Willie Tan.

The letter stated that they still had 10 days to work for the garment factory.

However, the workers said they were told not to report for work as early as Friday but were promised they will be paid until the 23rd of the month.

Majority of the workers transferred to L&T a few months ago as "packers" for sewed t-shirts and other apparel products for signature clothing lines like DKNY, Polo, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Liz Claiborne.

The workers, who were paid $3.05 an hour, claimed that they were not provided barracks nor housing allowance and that they were not given copies of their employment contracts.

They said they paid for their health certificate costing $20 each even though under the local labor law, this must be shouldered by employers.

Wendiline Hernandez and Andrea Concepcion complained that their working area had very poor ventilation.

Other workers said they had to eat "near the septic tank."

Knight said the termination was prompted by the declining orders from their major clients in the U.S.

"Paying people on time and good employee care continue to be very important to us. There was never any intention to let people go, but the fact is that orders are down and a reduction in force is an action we have to take," she said in a statement.

The workers, she added, were "provided notice and severance."

But the workers claimed the management did not talk to them and that there were no discussions about their severance pay.

May 17, 2004

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