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    Thursday, November 21, 2019-5:13:53A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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7 Chinese workers say they are victims of forced labor

SEVEN construction workers from China are claiming that they are victims of a forced labor scheme. They previously sought compensation from a firm contracted to build the Saipan casino for injuries sustained during employment.

In their 47-page first amendment complaint, the plaintiffs also included Imperial Pacific International Holdings Limited as among the defendants in their lawsuit.

Aaron Halegua, a New York attorney assisting the workers, stated: “Many foreign migrant workers suffer injuries and endure abuse, but have no access to a remedy. Fortunately, because these events occurred in a U.S. Commonwealth, the plaintiffs are protected under U.S. law.”

Halegua said the workers’ first amendment complaint brings claims under the federal Anti-Trafficking Act, as well as claims under CNMI law for the injuries they suffered at the project site.

The plaintiffs are Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yang.

Through the Berline & Associates law firm, they are suing Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC and Imperial Pacific over allegations of forced labor, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractor.

Gold Mantis is one of the firms contracted by IPI for its Saipan casino project in Garapan.

According to the lawsuit, IPI “knew about or, at a minimum, recklessly disregarded its contractors’ exploitative and illegal practices.”

The lawsuit added: “Rushing to complete the project rather than remedy the situation, Imperial Pacific and its contractors sought to conceal their illegal scheme from government authorities, medical providers and any other party that might hold them accountable. Imperial Pacific and its contractors denied entry to an investigator from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration…who came to inspect safety conditions on the worksite. The unauthorized Chinese workers were also told to hide when government inspectors did come to the worksite or dormitories.”

IPI hired multiple Chinese construction firms to build its casino and resort on Saipan, and these firms “then employed the seven plaintiffs and thousands of other workers.”

The contractors included MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. which is alleged to be a subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned conglomerate, and Gold Mantis whose alleged parent company is traded on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, Beilida New Materials System Engineering Co Ltd., and Sino Great Wall International Engineering Co. LLC.

The lawsuit also alleged that the plaintiffs and many other Chinese construction workers at the casino project paid large recruitment fees for jobs on Saipan based on the promise of good conditions, high wages, legal work status, and immigration benefits.

Halegua said the plaintiffs paid fees sometimes exceeding $8,000 to recruiters in China, often having “to borrow money from loan sharks at high interest rates, using their land or homes as collateral.”

“Although plaintiffs had been promised that they could work in Saipan for multiple years or even obtain green cards, they later learned that they lacked legal authorization to work in Saipan,” the lawyer added.

He said the plaintiffs were required to work over 12 hours per day without any rest day, and sometimes were forced to work a 24-hour shift.

“Even though plaintiffs’ pay rate was already below the legal minimum wage, their employers systematically withheld a portion of their earned wages and often failed to pay them anything for weeks at a time. Plaintiffs were crammed into dormitories, some of which had no showers or air-conditioning. Their supervisors yelled and cursed at them, and forced them to pay fines if they did not work hard enough or arrived late. The Imperial Pacific construction site was also extremely dangerous. The injury incidence rate exceeded the national average as untrained and inexperienced workers were pushed to work around-the-clock while basic safety precautions were ignored,” the lawsuit added.

Attorney Tiberius Mocanu, who represents Gold Mantis, in response to the lawsuit said the federal court has no jurisdiction over the claims of the workers.

The first amended complaint was filed at the District Court for the NMI on March 15. The workers asked the court to award special and punitive damages in an amount to be proven at trial. The workers are also demanding a jury trial.