Breakthrough of the Saipan Industrial Action

Breakthrough of the Saipan Industrial Action

US Labour Department's Intervention led to Four Contractors Repaying USD 14 million Compensation


In March 2017, a worker fell from and died in a construction site of a casino on Saipan Island, a project invested by Hong Kong listed company Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd (HKEx stock code: 1076).  The investigation conducted by the FBI confirmed that the contractors had employed a large number of illegal workers from China. Moreover, the four contractors, namely Chinese state-owned Metallurgical Corporation of China Limited, Nanjing Beilida New Material System Engineering, Suzhou Gold Mantis Construction Decoration and Sino Great Wall Co., were found to owe workers their wages, fail to provide labour insurance, illegally withhold workers' passports and violate other labour legislations. An industrial action was triggered and workers demanded their missing wages and legal compensation. After a year of tug of war, finally a breakthrough takes place.


According to Li Qiang from China Labor Watch, each worker paid 10,000 Yuan before arriving Saipan Island, a considerable amount to the labour agency, while it promised to pay her/him daily wages of USD 450. On one hand, this amount is lower than the local legal minimum wages; on the other hand, the labour agency did not apply work permits for workers. In other words, they entered Saipan Island as tourists and worked as illegal workers there. According to the workers, though they had paid the fee to the labour agency as instructed, the wages they received were lower than what they had been promised. The contractors also withheld their passports and they were forced to work under exploitative conditions. Without a legal status, the contractors could get away without offering them labour insurance, thus when a worker got sick or injured, s/he had to pay for the medical expenses her/himself. Since 2017, workers have launched a series of protests, to demand the contractors and Imperial Pacific to repay their missing wages and compensation. However, Imperial Pacific kept claiming it was a dispute between contractors and workers and wanted to stay untouched, while the contractors turned away from workers.


Workers' efforts and determination finally forced the US Labour Department to get involved. On 5 March 2018, it announced that an agreement had been reached between four contractors and the workers, to repay and compensate over 2,400 workers (including those who had returned to China) an amount of USD 14 million.  Such an agreement triggered some discussions among Chinese netizens. They wonder, while workers are often accused of “disturbing social order” or even “subversion” in China when they are fighting for their rights, the so-called “hostile foreign force” is indeed helping Chinese citizens defend themselves, they even speculate that foreign governments are kinder to Chinese people.  It is hard to say if their speculation is true, but assuredly, workers' solidarity and determination played the most significant role in their quest for justice. When each vulnerable worker joins force, they can maximize their chance to reclaim their rights.


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