Wednesday, February 10, 2010

DOL cites rampant labor abuses on Guam

DOL cites rampant labor abuses on Guam

Wednesday, 03 February 2010 01:55
by Jennifer Naylor Gesick | Variety News Staff

GUAM Department of Labor receives an average of 500 labor complaints a year, but many of the foreign workers seem unaware of their rights under the law, according to department director Maria Connelley.

Many of the foreign workers abandon their posts after filing a complaint with the department. “For whatever reason, when H2B workers come to us they fear to go back to work, so it is our responsibility to let H2 workers know that they have the same benefits and privileges of other U.S. workers," Connelley said.

Complaints include employers allegedly nonpayment of wages, withholding overtime pay and discrimination, but the percentage of cases resolution is not available as of press time.

Labor advocates warn of a possible increase in the number of labor abuse cases with the influx of H2 workers who will come to Guam for jobs related to military buildup.

To curb incidents of labor abuses, Connelley said the labor department offers educational classes to employers.

"At least once a year,” Connelley said, “we have a summit or a conference for all the employers with H2B (workers), and we bring in different administrators and speakers to address the local law and federal law,” the labor chief said in an interview with Variety after her presentation before the Rotary Club of Northern Guam at the Hyatt Regency Guam on Monday.

"We will continue to offer those courses, so that employers will continue to understand their obligation and requirement,” Connelley said.

Recently, five H2 workers from the Philippines filed a complaint against their employer, Prime Pacific Builders, alleging they have never been paid since they came to Guam in November.

“We told those five people to return to work, and we need to continue to emphasize that these foreign hires were brought here as guests,” Connelley said.

“When they didn’t return to work, the employer had the responsibility to report to the DOL. When these employees did not return to work, they have become illegal and they have to return home," she said.

When the employees came to the labor department, Connelley said she subpoenaed the employer and asked for the employees’ records.

“We were working with the employer to make it a win-win situation. However they didn’t return to work and then it became a separate issue from the wage and hour issue and it becomes an immigration issue," she explained.

The five workers, Ysrael Espinosa, Jhaniel Perez, Alejo Ongotan, Ernesto Maglaque and Benedicto Calaguas, Jr. paid their own way to come to Guam. They each paid between $1,500 and $2,000 for labor processing and plane tickets.

Their H2 visas were good until l October.

Connelley said the labor department is now investigating the workers’ employer, Noel Calaguas.

"It means that if these employers continue to violate or commit an infraction and in the future they submit a request to bring in temporary workers we may not endorse their request because they need to take care of their workers while they are there," the labor director said.

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