Chinese Workers Flooding the Philippines Jeopardize Local Employment and Livelihood

Chinese Workers Flooding the Philippines Jeopardize Local Employment and Livelihood
Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images

What you need to know

Chinese workers have flooded the Philippines, further disrupting local employment.

An influx of Chinese workers has entered the Philippines since 2016, threatening local jobs.

With Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warming up to Beijing, a host of political and economic changes have been spurred during his term to favor Chinese interests. Lawmakers and workers groups have sounded an alarm over a spike in foreign labor from China, many of whom are taking blue-collar jobs.

“It's normal for the Chinese to seek employment abroad. We do the same thing,” said Maria Fe Juson, a union leader who works at a packing plant in Mindanao. “The problem is, the projects endorsed by the Duterte administration are creating jobs for the Chinese while domestic job opportunities are being neglected even more."

According to the Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration (BI), more than 3 million Chinese nationals had entered the country between 2016 and 2018, a 538% increase coinciding with Duterte’s closer ties to China. Currently, there are no official figures on how many Chinese nationals are working in the country.

In a speech last February, Duterte gave leeway on the issue by saying “let them work here,” partly because of the fear that Chinese officials could retaliate by deporting the roughly 300,000 Filipino workers in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images

Filipino Labor Union Frustrated by Government Decisions

Many working-class Filipinos feel cheated by their government exhibiting lenience on the entry of Chinese labor, who can land a job much easier than the locals. Kilusang Mayo Uno, or May First Movement (KMU), the country’s largest labor center denounced the presence of Chinese workers in the country as indicative of the administration’s priorities.

A group representative told The News Lens, “They peddle jobs for foreigners that are handled by Chinese contractors. They iron out deal after deal for partnerships with Beijing but cannot even resolve the burning issues of domestic labor. They refuse to raise wages nationwide and continue to serve the whims of their imperialist agendas.”

In May, nearly 100,000 protesters joined KMU’s Labor Day march, where a monstrous effigy of Duterte was on display depicted as a winged demon. Its wings were painted in the ilk of the Chinese and American flag, representing the superpowers’ dominion over Philippine’s foreign policy.

One of Duterte’s major campaign promises was to end the practice of having employees work perennially on a contract basis without achieving full-time status. According to Elmer Labog, KMU’s National Chairperson, Duterte has yet to fulfill his campaign promise and the large presence of foreign labor has only worsened tensions among the local workforce.

“Ordinary Filipinos are not the ones benefiting from the government’s collaborations with big Chinese companies,” Labog told The News Lens. “In light of the current job crisis, the President should do more to prioritize and help Filipino workers instead of catering to his foreign masters.”

Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
A veteran journalist tearing the Chinese flag to express anger against China's handling of the recent fishing vessel collision in the South China Sea.

China Asserts Control over the Philippines via Billion-Dollar Investments

IBON Foundation, a local think tank, flagged the Kaliwa Dam project funded by Chinese Official Development Aid (ODA) as “unduly biased for China and against the Philippines.” The project, according to the foundation, is an example of how unscrupulous deals deprive Filipinos of employment opportunities.

“The practice of tied aid where loans are spent on the creditor country’s goods and services is unfortunately the norm in bilateral ODA. In the Kaliwa loan deal, for instance, the proceeds will pay for Chinese contractors and controversially even Chinese workers,” IBON stated.

These problems are magnified by a poor job market in the Philippines, one of the contributing factors of the human exodus. The foundation estimated that the country’s current unemployment rate is 10.1 percent, or 4.6 million, while job creation is at an all-time low.

In April, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez had promised that the slew of Chinese investments would bring in more jobs for Filipinos. However, these big projects are more inclined to employ Chinese workers. In other instances, Chinese businesses and workers have been popping up where Filipino firms once held ground. The popular holiday island Boracay was shut down for six months for "rehabilitation" and around 40,000 Filipinos lost their jobs. When the island was reopened for tourism in April, it had a 30-percent increase of Chinese-owned establishments.

For much of 2018, China was Philippine’s top trading partner, accounting for 16.6 percent, or US$14 billion of the country’s total trade, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

Despite the economically fruitful relations with China, the Philippines has seen record-high inflation (6.7 percent increase) in 2018. Aside from scare employment opportunities, working-class Filipinos have to deal with the rising cost of commodities.

KMU’s regional leader Mike Cabangon lamented the fact that Chinese working at the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project receive around US$58 per day in wages.

“While Filipino workers here get around US$6.75 per day on the same kind of job. It’s a huge insult to us, especially in a time when prices are going up rapidly and the government will not sanction a wage increase,” Cabangon said.

Like many recent large scale infrastructure projects, the Pump is primarily funded by China as part of the Duterte administration’s Build Build Build (BBB) program. To complete the 75 flagship projects under the program, the government sought almost half of the US$30 billion dollar undertaking from China, creating one of the easiest entry points for Chinese investments, and by extension Chinese workers, in the Philippines.

Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Workers cut off from their jobs due to the closure of Boracay wait to avail transportation money from the Department of Social Welfare agency in 2018.

The Philippines’ Impotent Bureaucracy Fails to Ease the Foreign Labor Problem

As a general rule, the issuance of Alien Employment Permits (AEPs) and Special Working Permits (SWPs) should only apply to those with “highly-specialized” skills or in cases where there are no available Filipinos who can do the job.

Most of the Chinese workers in the Philippines work in various online gaming firms across the country according to the BI. However, there have also been sightings of those illegally employed for manual labor and other low paying jobs. Chinese construction workers have been reprimanded by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), which can only impose fines and instead of deporting them, since the BI is the one that authorizes work permits.

Foreign workers who overstay cannot be pursued by the DOLE as its authorities are limited to imposing fines. The agency even admitted that it cannot do anything to address the sudden appearance of Chinese businesses in Boracay and that it does not have the manpower to monitor all of the potential recruitment.

The National Union of Lawyers of the Philippines told The News Lens in a statement that the relentless entry of Chinese workforce is unconstitutional.

“It is inequitable and harmful to Filipino enterprises and violates the constitutional preference for Filipino labor,” they wrote.

The union also explained that loopholes in the current DOLE policies can “give room for interpretation that would allow various kinds of foreign workers to be employed in the country under foreign employers.”

“We need stricter revisions on these rules and more proactive policies for Filipino job security,” the union said.

The influx of Chinese labor has been a contentious issue for the local population, further aggravated by an overly welcoming Duterte government. While China's economic interests may align with that of the Duterte administration, the benefits only come at the expense of the Filipino working class.

Read Next: Duterte Buckles Under Chinese Pressure Amid Maritime Row

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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