Sat, Apr 15, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Saipan casino workers protest lack of wages

Reuters, HONG KONG

A worker stands outside the construction site of the Best Sunshine Live casino in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, on Nov. 21 last year.

Photo: Reuters

More than 50 construction workers hired for a casino resort on the Pacific island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands staged a street protest yesterday demanding to be paid, after their employer was charged with illegally importing Chinese workers on tourist visas.

The Chinese workers, who entered Saipan on tourist visas and are not allowed to work, demanded that casino contractor MCC International Saipan, a unit of state-owned Metallurgical Corp of China Ltd (MCC, 中國冶金科工), pay their wages, eyewitnesses said.

“MCC return my hard-earned money,” a protest banner read, according to a Facebook live update.

The Facebook videos could not be verified independently.

MCC did not respond to a request for comment.

“No passports. No work. No money,” said Northern Mariana Islands Legislator Ed Propst, who observed the protests.

Hong Kong-listed Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd (博華太平洋) operates the Best Sunshine Live casino in Saipan. MCC is one of the contractors engaged to complete construction of the casino resort.

“Imperial Pacific International is strongly reiterating that it does not condone the hiring and or employment of individuals by illegal means,” the firm said in an e-mail. “Imperial Pacific International is emphatic in its request to all of its contractors and subcontractors to follow all local and federal labor and immigration laws and regulations in the conduct of its business, including, and in particular, the hiring of construction workers.”

MCC, together with Beilida Overseas (CNMI) Ltd, were charged by the FBI on Monday last week with illegally importing and employing Chinese workers, including one who died last month, court documents showed.

The Northern Mariana Islands have been controlled by the US since the end of World War II.

Its cash-strapped government approved a casino in 2014, after which Chinese investment has skyrocketed, and Chinese signs and business have mushroomed across the islands.

Since Imperial Pacific opened a temporary casino on Saipan less than two years ago, its revenue has wildly outperformed the top casinos in Macau, in spite of China’s battle to stop capital flight.

Scrutiny of the new Saipan casino project has intensified after the death of a construction worker last month and an FBI raid earlier this month which found a list of more than 150 undocumented workers in a contractor’s offices, as well as a safe containing several thousand US dollars, several hundred Chinese yuan and employee pay stubs.

Imperial said that it had paid construction contractors “requisite fees for processing needed applications for workers to work on the construction problems.”

The company said it opened its new casino on March 31, but the attached resort remains unfinished, with equipment strewn across the workplace.

There has been a slew of more than 100 work-site injuries from fractures to crushings in the past year, volunteers helping the injured said.

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