China may let Filipino maids work in five cities

China is considering a plan to allow maids from the Philippines to be hired in five big mainland cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen.

Labour Undersecretary Dominador Say said he met a representative from the Chinese Embassy in Manila last month for exploratory talks on coming up with standard employment contracts for Filipino maids wanting to work in China.

Discussions will continue next month, he added.

"It will be limited to five major cities, among them Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen. They are looking at the possibility of 100,000 pesos (S$2,700) monthly pay for the HSW to be hired," said Mr Say, referring to household service workers.

About 5,000 Filipinos are already working illegally in the mainland due to China's strict work visa policy preventing them from being employed legally, according to government data.

Shanghai allowed foreign residents to hire maids from overseas in July 2015, but Chinese citizens are still banned from hiring them.

Mr Emmanuel Geslani, a consultant for Philippine recruitment firms and an expert on labour migration, said talks among recruitment companies in China and the Philippines started last year.

"That is a good plan... It will legitimise (the status of illegals) either through a bilateral agreement or employment contracts that recruiters from both sides can agree on. So many are already jumping to the mainland from Hong Kong," he told The Straits Times.

Mr Geslani expects about 20,000 Filipino maids to move to China each month once a deal is struck. But he thinks Mr Say's estimate of a 100,000 peso salary is a bit too high.

The maids can expect a salary of at least US$400 (S$540), which is the minimum required now, and up to US$800.

Most are likely to end up with expatriates or wealthy Chinese families, mostly in Shanghai and Xiamen, and "not so much in Beijing", said Mr Geslani.

Mr Say noted that Filipino maids are in high demand in China because they are fluent in English and can adapt well to Chinese culture.

"Filipinos are also peaceful, compared to other nationalities... There is a new rising class in China with the money to afford household workers, and they prefer Filipinos," he said.

The number of Filipino maids working overseas is expected to balloon to three million this year from 2.1 million last year, once China opens up its market to them.

Mr Geslani said that Singapore, which has its own sizeable population of Filipino maids, is unlikely to be affected.

"Demand has already plateaued in Singapore. Most of its Filipino maids have been there for a long time, and have been through several cycles of recruitment," he said.

He added that the Philippines will continue to send about 16,000 maids to Singapore each year to replace those who have opted to work elsewhere or decided to go back home for good.

China has been opening up its markets to the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte took office last year.

Mr Duterte has thawed the once-frosty relations between Manila and Beijing, as he pivoted away from the United States.

In turn, he secured over US$30 billion worth of investment pledges and loans from China during a state visit to the country in October last year.

Beijing has also lifted restrictions on banana and pineapple exports from the Philippines, and opened its markets to Philippine mangoes, coconuts, dragon fruit, crabs, shrimps, tuna and milkfish.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2017, with the headline 'China may let Filipino maids work in five cities'. Print Edition | Subscribe