IPI still owes more employee wages despite coming up with backpay
The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) determined that Imperial Pacific International (IPI) needed to take an unscheduled break from work on the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan since it has not been able to keep up with its obligations. The disclosure that it had kept avoiding paying its employees for months at a time did not sit well with regulators or government officials, and IPI was asked to either come up with all the backpay it owed to its employees or face much more serious consequences. The casino operator has dug up some money, but the sum could possibly not be enough to keep the company out of trouble.
IPI has faced multiple accusations on a variety of topics, such as controversial construction habits, inability to pay government fees and gross negligence for not paying employees while making them live in inadequate conditions. The last problem caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which petitioned the CNMI courts to hold IPI accountable for bringing forth a humanitarian crisis. The court agreed, but IPI has, in some way, managed to somehow pull money out of somewhere to pay its employees.
The Guam Daily Post reports that employees have received back pay for “periods 21 to 26,” according to IPI attorney Michael Dotts. This makes up for part of the huge obligation, but there is allegedly more due, with IPI having to come up with a sum of more than $3.36 million in wages. It is still unclear where IPI got the money from or why it didn’t pay its employees’ wages sooner if it had been able to come up with cash that fast. It is also not clear why the company deemed it necessary to strip its workers of certain basic needs and necessities, such as electricity and water.
CNMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona had ordered IPI to stop its operations because of the ongoing employee issues and the DOL request. She stated that the company and its chairperson, Cui Li Jie, were in contempt of court and IPI will be back in court later this week to provide the judge with an update. Depending on how that goes, Saipan’s Imperial Palace casino could possibly continue to suffer from its work cessation, rendering it unlikely that IPI would be able to complete phase one construction by the end of next month, as was expected earlier on.
That deadline would probably have to be pushed back, even if Judge Manglona determines that IPI is actively working on fixing its mistakes. She was not the only one to issue a stop-work order last week, as Marianas Variety reports that the CNMI Department of Public Works (DPW) issued one as well. This one, the third the department has issued in the past four months, comes as IPI has allegedly failed to obey a requirement that a safety inspector be present at all times.
Imperial Palace was initially expected to see the first phase of construction completed by 2018. That same year, with the deadline drawing nearer and nearer, IPI announced that it was in need of more time. While delays are normal in construction projects, the company somehow managed to get so far behind that it needed to add in three years to the timeframe, not just a few months, as was expected. Later on, in 2019, it realized it needed even more time, requesting an additional extension to 2022. However, no word has been given on whether or not that request was officially granted.