HONG KONG, April 14 (Reuters) - More than 50 construction
workers hired for a casino resort on the Pacific island of
Saipan staged a street protest on Friday 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
Corporation of China Ltd, pay them wages, said eye witnesses.
"MCC return my hard earned money," read a protest banner,
according to a Facebook live update. The Facebook videos could
not be verified independently by Reuters.
MCC did not respond to a request for comment.
"No passports. No work. No money," said local legislator Ed
Propst, who observed the protests.
Hong Kong-listed Imperial Pacific operates the
Best Sunshine Live casino in Saipan. MCC is one of the
contractors engaged to complete construction of the casino
"Imperial Pacific International is strongly reiterating that
it does not condone the hiring and or employment of individuals
by illegal means," the company said in an email to Reuters.
"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 U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on April 3
with illegally importing and employing Chinese workers,
including one who died in March, court documents showed.
Saipan is part of the Northern Mariana Islands and has been
controlled by the United States since the end of World War Two.
Its cash-strapped government approved a casino in 2014,
after which Chinese investment has skyrocketed and Chinese signs
and business have mushroomed across the island.
Since Imperial Pacific opened a temporary casino on the
island under two years ago, its revenues have 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 in March and an FBI
raid in April that found a list of more than 150 undocumented
workers in a contractor's offices, as well as a safe containing
several thousand dollars in U.S. currency, several hundred
Chinese yuan and employee pay stubs.
Imperial told Reuters in April 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 told Reuters.
(Reporting by Farah Master, Additional reporting Shanghai
newsroom; Editing by Michael Perry)