Several Bars In Palau Hit With Human Trafficking Complaints

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Labor Law violations alleged by plaintiffs’ lawyers

By Jose Rodriguez T. Senase

KOROR, Palau (Island Times, Sept. 7, 2015) – The owners of several bars in Malakal are in hot water after a complaint for human trafficking and labor laws violations were filed against them.

The filing of a complaint against the owners of Dreamers, Blue Corner and Pink Diamond Bars came after the a similar complaint was earlier filed against the owners of the Poseidon Bar, which is also located in Malakal.

Named as respondents in the complaint were Santos Masters, Mu-Chien (Eric) Lin, Peling Lin, Blue Corner Disco Bar and Restaurant, S.M. Co. Unlimited dba Pink Diamond, and Dreamers.

Mu-Chien Lin and Peling Lin are citizens of the Republic of China (ROC). Masters is their local business partner.

Also named as respondents was Rinsang Rechirei in his official capacity as Director of the Bureau of Labor and Human Resources.

Plaintiffs are six Filipino workers, namely: Cristeta Aviles, Jorislyn Barba, Julifer Bulintao, Diana Casibual, Jamaica Co, and Mary Teruel.

The Verified Complaint and Appeal from Labor Ruling was filed at the Palau Supreme Court last week. The Plaintiffs are represented by lawyer Mana Barari of the Micronesia Legal Services Corporation (MLSC), who is aggressively running after and prosecuting people who commit human trafficking and violate labor laws.

It was alleged in the complaint that instead of working as waitresses, Plaintiffs were forced to work as bargirls or entertainers, whereby Defendant Employers required them to entertain male clientele in the bar and also in VIP rooms.

It was also stated in the complaint that Plaintiffs were required to have drinks with male clientele and were thus subjected to unwanted and sometimes aggressive touching and to perform sexual acts.

It was learned that Defendant Employers do not serve food in their establishments and do not offer any position to any of their employees that would qualify as "waitress" position is a restaurant.

On arrival, it was alleged that Plaintiffs’ passports were confiscated and held by Defendant MC Lin. I t was also alleged that in addition to unlawfully holding their passports, Lin held their social security cards and employment contracts.

Plaintiffs further claimed that they were informed that they had to pay off debt that had accrued due to their travel expenses, recruitment agency fees, and visa fees.

The Complaint states that without their passports and social security cards, and with no place to go in Palau, Plaintiffs had no option other than to work as entertainers to pay off their debts. As such, Plaintiffs’ employment constituted indentured servitude.

Plaintiffs also claimed that they were subject to arbitrary rules and penalties that were not disclosed in their contracts. For example, if a customer failed to fully pay his bill, sometimes in retaliation for Plaintiffs’ refusal to perform sexual acts, Plaintiffs would suffer a "customer charge" deduction in the full amount of the unpaid bill.

Further, Plaintiffs were penalized $10 per month if they did not spend extra time cleaning their work areas.

After the complaint was filed with Labor, it was alleged that MC Lin established further restrictions which provided for penalties if Plaintiffs ate something during their work shift, used their cellphone during work shift, or called in sick twice in one week.

It was also alleged in the complaint that Defendant Employers never provided pay records to Plaintiffs during their employment, even when requested by Plaintiffs. Defendant Employers did not provide pay records until the Labor complaint proceedings.

There were also allegations that Defendant Employers did not pay Plaintiffs the salary agreed upon in their contracts or that they were paid below the minimum wage.

Labor Complaint

Plaintiffs filed their first Labor Complaint on June 8, 2015. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on June 18, 2015 and a second amended complaint on June 25, 2015.

Plaintiffs also filed a criminal complaint against Defendant Employers with the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) on or around June 18, 2015.

As part of the investigation that followed, Plaintiffs assisted CID in an operation that resulted in the arrest of the original Labor officer assigned to Plaintiffs’ case. The case is still pending.

Under the guidance of the Labor officers originally assigned to the case, the Defendant Employers delivered to Labor termination letters for the six Plaintiffs.

However, the termination letters were never served to Plaintiffs, and were hereby determined to be ineffective during the first Labor hearing.

Labor held two hearings on Plaintiffs’ complaints before recommending a proposed settlement on August 6, 2015.

Plaintiffs then notified Labor in writing that they did not accept the terms of the proposed settlement due to key material terms that were not decided in their favor.

Labor subsequently issued its formal rulings on August 14, 2015. Plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal on August 19, 2015.

It was learned that after filing their labor complaint, some Plaintiffs could no longer tolerate working conditions and employer treatment and were effectively forced to leave their employment in late July and early August 2015.

Not the first case against defendants

A similar complaint was filed against Defendants in October 2011.

At that time, employees and Defendant Employers settled the dispute, and Defendant Employers agreed to change several of their unlawful practices.

Relief requested

Plaintiffs demand judgment against Defendants as follows: 1) Compensatory damages found to be entitled at trial, together with interest, costs, and reasonable value of attorneys’ fee; 2) Restitution awarded in amounts found to be entitled to at trial, together with interests, costs, and reasonable value of attorneys’ fees; 3) Punitive damages found to be entitled to, together with interest; together with awards of back pay and all lost benefits; 4) An order issued by this Court permitting each Plaintiff to transfer to a new employment position with a new employer in Palau; 5) An order enjoining any further acts of retaliation and illegal employment practices on the part of the Defendant Employers; 6) A declaratory judgment that Defendant Employers’ violations as described above were willful; and 7) An order issued by this Court to ROP Defendants to promptly approve and complete paperwork necessary to effectuate employment transfers, and further to bring the Bureau of Labor and Human Resources and Division of Labor into compliance with the applicable laws, the Division of Labor Rules and Regulations, and ROP Constitutional requirements of substantive due process; 8) Injunctive and declaratory relief and other appropriate equitable relief; and 9) Any other relief which may appear appropriate at the time of final judgment.

Palau human trafficking problem

Human trafficking is the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others.

For the seventh consecutive year, Palau was ranked as Tier 2 country by the US State Department, meaning Palau is a destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking, and for men and women subjected to forced labor. Though the designation has been contested by Palau Government officials.

Several human trafficking cases/labor laws violations were filed and heard last year during the time of former Attorney General Victoria Roe. The human trafficking and labor cases/complaints filed earlier targeted similar establishments.

Island Times called at one of the establishments owned by MC Lin to get his comment on the case, but was told that "he was out somewhere". Attempts to get his cellphone number were also unsuccessful.

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