Economist: China Should Legalize Entry of Filipino Domestic Workers

An economist has urged the legalization of entry of Filipino domestic workers in China, many of whom are paid higher than their counterparts in the Middle East and even nearby Hong Kong and Singapore, but remain shut out by its current labor laws.

In his piece at Global Times, Liang Haiming, chief economist of China Silk Road iValley Research Institute, a Guangzhou-based think-tank, cited a number of reasons why Filipino domestic helpers should be employed legally in China.

“Introducing Filipino maids could help China’s economic and social development in the long run as more Chinese females would be able to spend less time and effort on chores and looking after children or elderly relatives, and focus more on their work,” Liang said, citing the growing role of women to the country’s gross domestic product, now reportedly close to 50 per cent. Freeing professional women from domestic duties is understood to help elevate their productivity and contribute to the healthy development of Chinese economy.

This comes as Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte makes his four-day state visit bringing with him a large delegation of many business leaders aiming to forge deals beneficial to both countries in areas including construction, tourism, agriculture, electric power and high-speed rails.

Existing laws in China do not allow hiring of foreign nationals as domestic helpers, but this has not prevented the influx of Filipino domestic helpers employed illegally, their number now exceeds 200,000, according to a report by South China Morning Post.

Filipino domestic helpers have distinct advantage over the others, Liang said, as their perceived skill and knowledge surpass local Chinese maids who are criticized for “various reasons.”

“Filipino workers are required to graduate with a college degree if they want to work overseas, and normally can speak English,” said Liang.

But beyond their domestic duties, domestic helpers from the Philippines employed in China, Liang believes, will help warm the ties between the two countries.

“Introducing Filipino maids into China could enhance mutual understanding of both countries, and help establish a firm premise for future cooperation.”

Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has said last month that Beijing should legalize the stay of Filipino domestic helpers working in China illegally.

A report by China’s Ministry of Commerce said while there are 20 million domestic helpers in China — most of whom are middle-aged female rural migrant workers with little training or education — there remains a huge shortage of supply. Shirley Yang, a Shanghai advertising agency boss lamented she was tired of hiring and firing poorly educated and ill-mannered local maids, so she began entertaining thoughts of hiring a Filipina domestic helper to care for her twin babies.

“I had been using a mainland maid for some years,” she said. “They are from rural areas and have little education. What’s more, they have inappropriate manners, such as spiting on the ground while going outside and making noises while drinking soup,” Yang recounts. A visit to an American colleague’s home impressed her on how professional a Filipino domestic helper works.

“The Filipino ayi is much better than the Chinese one,” Yang said. “She really tidies up my house, mopping the floor every day and folds clothes neatly. She also likes playing with my kids. She also teaches them to learn do things by themselves” – a quality her Chinese predecessor lacked.

Given the demand for their services, the salary of a domestic helper in China, especially those who have experience in taking care of newborn infants, is also rising rapidly. In 2014, the monthly salary of a yuesao, a maid with childcare expertise, has surged to CNY 10,532 (P74,978). Such pay easily dwarfs what Filipino domestic helpers receive in places like Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Singapore.

Pay range for domestic helpers in China is typically between 7,000 to 8,000 yuan (P49,860 to P56,976) a month. No wonder the interest is also high among foreign domestic helpers mostly coming from the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar to work in China despite the current labor regulations. Other foreigners illegally working in China are as actory workers in the Pearl River Delta from Vietnam and Myanmar and merchants from Africa.

China has been opening up its policy on hiring of foreign domestic helpers as in July 2015, Shanghai began allowing foreign residents to hire domestic helpers from abroad. For local Chinese, it’s still tightly regulated; reports said only five foreign domestic helpers had been granted approval to work in Shanghai by the end of last year.