They are here!
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - September 24, 2018 - 12:00am

They had been here for quite a while. Just go to 168 mall and you get the feeling you are shopping in some bargain mall in Shanghai. I once ate some dumplings in a hole-in- the-wall food place in Binondo owned by a fresh migrant from Shanghai who only spoke Mandarin.

Some weeks ago, a very close Chinoy friend of mine warned that it is not wise to loosen restrictions on land ownership in the new Constitution or just leave that up for Congress to determine.

“What if Congress is paid not to regulate or to stall? Meantime, the best agricultural, industrial and residential lands are gobbled up? Probably irrational fear. But if one knows what’s happening under the radar of many, one has reason to worry.

“I asked around in the Binondo and Bay City communities. Unknown to many, there’s a burgeoning invisible economy where business (even buying groceries) is conducted thru apps in foreign currency. They are bold enough to buy property through dummies.

“The ‘newcomers’ are boasting they will soon overwhelm the locals. They think the locals are slow, less aggressive and not innovative.

“And… hold on to your househelps. There are recruiters waiting outside doors of churches and supermarkets in plush areas offering double their pay plus more.”

Sen. Franklin Drilon has raised the issue of Chinese workers coming here in droves. Drilon said he learned from “industry people” that there were about 400,000 foreign workers in Metro Manila alone. About 150,000 of them are in the casino bayside area.

Of course government is quick to deny. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said they have only issued work permits to about 40,000 workers, 25,000 to Chinese nationals. Then again, any Filipino with brains knows how incompetence and corruption make bureaucrats who deal with immigration look the other way.

PAGCOR had been issuing licenses for offshore gaming companies to operate here. Gambling is banned in China, even online gambling. So they locate the business here which requires dealers who speak fluent Mandarin.

They are here and they are making a lot of people happy, not just immigration and labor inspectors. The property sector was approaching a serious bubble when POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator) came to the rescue.

From what I heard, they are the darlings of property developers. They rent out whole floors, whole buildings without bargaining on price. It is the same thing with condo units for their workers, which is why condo prices particularly in the bay area are through the roof.

Of course, there is always the danger that Xi Jinping will finally plug this last loophole in his anti-gambling/anti-corruption drive. The Great Digital Firewall around China should make it easy for the Chinese government to completely cut off these offshore websites.

If that happens, and it may be soon, we will end up with ghost cities of buildings and condo complexes devoid of people. It will be like many of China’s ghost cities.

In the meantime, does our government really know how many mainland Chinese are in the country and where they are? I doubt that. I also doubt that the Chinese POGO workers are even paying the proper income tax for income earned while working here. Most likely, their salary is paid in China.

What about the possible connection of some of these gambling operators and workers to organized criminal syndicates in China? I am sure our law enforcement agencies have no idea too.

I think as a former labor secretary, Drilon is concerned about imported Chinese labor displacing Filipino workers. I asked my more knowledgeable Facebook friends in construction and property if it is because our available local labor lack needed skills or we just lack labor that could be hired, trained or not?

A friend who was until recently very active in building low-cost housing developments replied: “Yes. It’s both. I noticed that engineers and skilled labor, seasoned workers are getting fewer and demanding much higher wages; we are forced to hire and train even those with only a year or just months of experience. And there’s no guarantee that after training, they become productive immediately.”

So I asked if imported Chinese labor can compete on cost. Apparently, yes. “That’s the thing too, Boo. Chinese skilled labor can cost less even with board and lodging because they work faster and more efficiently.”

I was also told that: “someone who hired a team of Chinese workers was happy because the Chinese team did in 30 days what his local team would do in four months. So I guess, in that sense, they are cheaper.”

One other FB friend explained: “The main problem we have with our workers, other than mismatch in skills and training, is productivity and efficiency. We tried doing our electronics manufacturing here before in parallel with our foreign operations and we found that what one worker there can do is matched by three to four workers here in productivity.”

“So I asked if the problem is lack of training or culture. I was sorry to read the answer: “It is more the culture, Boo. In our foreign operations, workers are focused and without much supervision, we do not observe much chatter during working hours.”

Those in construction agree they have been having a hard time getting workers for their projects the past two years or so. No wonder Budget Secretary Ben Diokno was ready to import workers to get Build Build Build going.

But one discussant said: “the labor shortage is not just in the construction industry but also in other sectors from IT and health, to education and hospitality.”

Then again, how much productivity can anyone expect from workers whose main sustenance is rice and cup noodles? Bad nutrition has to be a factor working against our local labor.

We have a serious problem and no one is thinking about it.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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