Tourism Driving Rising Demands For Workers In CNMI

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Visitor arrivals in August of this year exceeded 400,000

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 16, 2013) – Manuel Bartolome, 48, thought he’d lose his mind thinking how he’d provide for himself and his family after losing his job a few months ago. But with new construction projects and expanding hotel operations buoyed by spikes in tourism arrivals to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, demand for workers has been on the rise.

"I’m relieved that I have another chance at employment. Hopefully my work papers will be processed and be back on the job soon," Bartolome, a father of four, told Saipan Tribune.

Bartolome was one of dozens of workers applying yesterday at Island Construction and Island Manpower in Chalan Kanoa, a private hiring agency that is in need of about a hundred workers, mainly for construction and hotel jobs.

Garry Malit, general manager at Island Manpower and Island Construction, said they are looking for construction workers such as masons, carpenters, electricians, tile settlers, painters, and plumbers.

He said they have been looking for over 100 workers for weeks now.

"There’s at least 45 individuals whose work papers are now under process. Most of them will work in construction. We are looking for more," Malit said in an interview.

Malit said there seems to be a "shortage" of masons and carpenters on Saipan, as most of those in these job categories had already left the island when the economy tanked and no replacements were brought in.

"Now we have a lot of jobs available, mostly in construction and they include big companies and those in real estate," he said.

Perlito San Jose, 54, said he’s applying at Island Manpower as a carpenter, which is currently in demand because of planned construction projects.

"I am happy to have a job soon," he said.

San Jose used to work for a small security agency where he was paid only $3.50 an hour.

The CNMI’s current minimum wage is $5.55 an hour, which San Jose expects to receive as a carpenter.

Island Manpower prefers those with CW permits or those willing to be petitioned for a CW status, and welcomes U.S. workers. However, to date, only one U.S. worker has applied for a job, specifically as a security guard.

Ronald Nicolas, 43, is applying as a mason. Because there’s only a few masons remaining on the island, Nicolas is expected to get the job.

"The construction company I used to work for closed. I am happy there’s job opening for masons like me," the father of three said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has set a cap of 14,000 non-immigrants under the transitional CNMI-only worker or CW program for fiscal year 2014 starting on Oct. 1.

This is a 6.66-percent cut from the current 15,000 cap.

Improving economy

Malit said an increased demand for workers in construction and hotels is a sure sign of an improving economy.

"Hopefully this improvement continues. I am personally happy to be able to help those who need jobs. In fact this Friday, some will already receive their salaries," he said.

Malit said Island Manpower also needs over 40 employees to work at hotels and households.

During yesterday’s interview, there was also a group of women applying for these jobs.

Island Manpower currently needs 10 for hotel housekeeping, 20 commercial cleaners, five house workers, four waiters, and four cooks.

Elma Barrozo, 43, said she’s applying at Island Manpower as a commercial cleaner.

"I really need this job. I am hopeful my application will be approved. I am happy for the opportunity that Island Manpower is giving to people like me who need jobs. I have four children and only my husband is working right now. I want to help him," the former garment factory worker said.

Barrozo was with two of her friends yesterday, applying for jobs.

Tourist arrivals to the CNMI reached 400,000 as of August this year, exceeding arrival levels last seen in 2006 when Japan Airlines was flying to the CNMI from the Japan market.

Japan and Korea remain as the Commonwealth’s major tourism market.

The Marianas Visitors Authority, however, also reported that arrivals from China have now reached 102,810 persons while arrivals from Russia have reached 10,476 persons, both of which are record annual totals.

Hotel occupancy is also at 94.01 percent in August, the 12-member Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands said. This is an 11-percent increase compared to August last year.

Emerging trend

Other manpower agencies are also seeing an increased demand for workers.

Nenette Delos Santos, vice president and manager at Saint Trading Co. Inc., said they have been supplying workers to major hotels on Saipan and the demand is picking up once again.

"There’s been a trend emerging. Hotels are now trying to source their employees from manpower agencies like us," Delos Santos said in an interview at the Saint Trading office in San Jose yesterday.

Saint Trading, she said, has a reliable list of clients that include Lau Lay Golf Resort, Aqua Resort Club, Fiesta Resort & Spa, Kanoa Resort, World Resort, Hafa Adai Beach Hotel, and Aquarius Hotel, along with LSG.

Delos Santos is optimistic about the direction of the CNMI economy and the increased need for workers.

The Inos administration is also optimistic about the economy.

The reopening of Coral Ocean Point, which is now undergoing renovation worth at least $4 million as part of an over $40 million planned total investments, is also a source of optimism.

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