[OPINION] Challenges in deploying Filipino household service workers to China
In July 2017, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) revealed that there was a possibility for China to hire Filipino household service workers (HSWs) with a high salary of up to P100,000 per month. China is indeed likely to open its doors to Filipino HSWs, but there will be challenges and restrictions.
In August 2017, the Department of Trade in Service and Commercial Services, Chinese Ministry of Commerce, released what by far is the most updated and official source of information on the service industry. In 2016, it was estimated that there were up to 25,420,000 workers in China's HSWs sector, yet there remain huge gaps to be filled across the major and medium-sized cities in China.
In Beijing alone, there is still a demand for 200,000 to 300,000 more HSWs. Around 30.2% of HSWs in China were needed for maternal care and child rearing, while 16.3% were required for elderly care. These two areas had the greatest need for HSWs, given China's aging problem and the recently enacted Two-Child Policy.
The majority of Chinese domestic HSWs lack professional training. In the past two years, there were appalling cases of the maltreatment of elderly and babies by HSWs in their homes, in care houses and kindergartens. In June 2017, a household helper set fire to her employer's apartment in Hangzhou in the middle of the night, causing the death of the employer and her two children in a case that shocked the general public. The helper was sentenced to death in February 2018.
Around 90% of HSWs in China are at or below high school education level; the majority are females from rural areas in their 40s and above, usually with little or no training. In comparison, Filipino HSWs are popularly known for their professionalism, which means they would be expected to provide more professional and specialized care that the Chinese HSWs cannot.
The English language capacity of the Filipino HSWs would also be a great added value for middle-class families eager to create an English learning environment for their children at home. According to The Economist, the number of middle class population in China had reached 225 million by 2016, and is expected to outnumber Europe by 2020. The majority of the middle class belong to the generation of the One-Child Policy, which means they have received good education, pursue better quality of life, and seek quality education for their children. They also demand better quality service and are capable of paying for it.
Market analysis conducted in Guangzhou shows that maternal matron and baby carers were paid 7,493 RMB (about P61,000) on average in 2017, compared to the 3,536 RMB for the household cleaners. According to online agency Aiyilaile, the salary range is from 3,500 RMB to 22,800 RMB per month. The monthly salary of P100,000 (approximately 12,200 RMB) as suggested by DOLE last July will thus depend on the skills, experience, and professionalism of the Filipino HSWs.
However, the Chinese household service industry is not yet legally or institutionally well developed. Unlike in Hong Kong, there are no industry systems and standards, or well-established and functioning rules and regulations to effectively regulate the industry.
Rights of household service workers
It is not uncommon to find that there is no contract between HSWs and employers, leading to a lack of clarity regarding protection of rights or the mutual obligations of employer and HSW.
For example, the HSWs may leave any time they want without notifying the employer. They might not get their medical and social insurance covered. Or they might be taken somewhere else to work, such as a relative's house.
In August 2017, Filipino HSW Lorain Asuncion, who was taken from Hong Kong to work for her employer's relative in Shenzhen, jumped off from the Shenzhen apartment where she worked and died. The Chinese news coverage did not reveal what the exact cause was.
Although the Chinese government has been actively pushing for policy reform in this field, enforcement and implementation remain rudimentary. The lack of well-functioning systems, standards, and rules/regulations for the HSW industry could also easily lead to disputes between employers and the HSWs, with particularly grave consequences in the case of foreign HSWs.
In addition, if a Filipino HSW were to enter a regular Chinese family, there are likely to be issues such as communication difficulty, political, social, and religious differences. Foreign HSWs in China should expect to work with family members, particular the elderly who do not speak English at all.
Political circumstances between the Philippines and China, although gradually improving under the Duterte administration, remain unstable in the long run because of the territorial disputes between the two countries. Preventing overseas workers from suffering possible negative impact of future political tensions between the two countries should be an issue of mutual concern.
Moreover, in China, religious freedom is relatively restricted and churches are also limited in number, which may cause difficulty for the religious life of Filipino HSWs in China.
Thus far, China has technically opened the market of only 5 major cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Xiamen – as well as the entire Guangdong Province to foreign HSWs. But the right to employ foreign HSWs has been restricted to high-level expats from overseas, including those from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau who have already been granted Chinese permanent residence or a work permit. This policy and strict requirements have therefore limited access to the China market by foreign HSWs. The bigger market of the regular Chinese families, particularly the middle-class families, remains technically closed.
In summary, there is a clear demand in China’s household service market that Filipino HSWs could help meet, given their comparative advantage in the industry. But the Philippine government should be aware of the current situation of the development of the Chinese household service industry, particularly the problems and possible consequences for foreign HSWs.
To pursue cooperation in this area, a comprehensive system of rules, regulations, and mechanisms needs to be included in the official discussions between the two governments, and ideally implemented before actual deployment to China. This is to ensure protection of the Filipino HSWs and to avoid potential conflicts between the two sides.
The two governments moreover need to work together to make arrangements for the reported 200,000 Filipinos HSWs who have been working illegally in China. – Rappler.com
Meiting Li is currently an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines (UP). She has a PhD in Politics from the University of Exeter and an MA in International Studies from the University of Sheffield. She is a graduate of BA International Politics from the Shanghai International Studies University in China. Before joining UP, she taught at Xiamen University.