admin's picture

Saipan workers that sued won’t be compensated

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 13, 2009) - Governor Benigno R. Fitial yesterday asked the Garment Workers Trust Fund to reconsider its decision not to provide compensation to former garment workers who have prevailed in their labor cases but who have not been paid because both the employer and the bonding company have gone out of business.

The governor’s letter came over two months after the trust fund announced that it still has US$600,000 available to help former garment workers who are still on Saipan and are facing hardships.

The trust fund also earlier said it intends to donate its remaining funds to charity.

In yesterday’s letter to Garment Workers Trust Fund chair Timothy H. Bellas, Fitial said "if the Trust Fund can make a donation to a charity, then it would seem also possible for the Trust Fund to make a donation to each qualified worker."

Fitial said a distribution from the trust fund to each worker with proven claims that remain unpaid seems the best way to carry out the original intent of the litigation that created the fund. He said the distribution may be in an equal amount.

He said there is no need to make any attempt to make the workers whole on their claims or to pay any "wage" as such.

Bellas, in a phone interview yesterday, said he reserves any comment to the media until he responds directly to Fitial’s letter.

He also said he will be sending a copy of the governor’s letter to two other members of the Garment Workers Trust Fund. They are former Washington State Supreme Court chief justice Richard Guy and former California Supreme Court justice Cruz Reynoso.

Fitial cited a list of individuals claims on behalf of 213 former garment workers totaling some US$700,000 that was provided by the Department of Labor to Bellas’ office in May.

At the time of the release of the list, Kaipat had said the claims were from the information provided by those who registered with Labor at the Garapan Central Park last summer and include those who registered with the federal ombudsman’s office in the summer of 2007. Kaipat’s list includes workers who were employed by garment industry subcontractors.

"Some of these workers would like o return home, but do not have enough savings for a ticket and there is no employer or bond to tap for the ticket," Fitial told Bellas.

In his letter, the governor also said the CNMI "has made great strides in improving its guest worker program."

"Making a donation to qualified workers would help close the books on the past. I hope that you will be able to support this proposal," he added.

The former Garment Oversight Board, then chaired by Bellas, established the trust fund after settlement money in the form of checks originally distributed to the workers came back or were not cashed.

The board was set up pursuant to the landmark US$20 million settlement agreement in the class action against Saipan’s garment industry.

Since March, Saipan has completely lost its once mighty garment industry due to the lifting of world trade rules. The industry used to employ some 20,000 workers, most of them from Asian countries such as China and the Philippines.

Earlier, Bellas said the trust fund is still accepting applications from former garment workers to avail of the funding until August 15, 2009.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment