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Chinese migrant labour force in Caribbean set to decrease. – Too costly

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THE rising cost of subsidising Chinese migrant labourers and China’s pledge to hire more locals on its foreign construction projects could see fewer workers coming to Trinidad and Tobago from the Asian country for upcoming infrastructural work.

 

Chinese officials made the disclosure to the Express during a visit to Beijing by journalists from Latin America and the Caribbean. The journalists are here on the invitation of the Chinese government ahead of the official visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who arrived in Trinidad and Tobago last night. Xi is expected to discuss trade, investment and construction opportunities with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

One executive whose company is pursuing four infrastructural projects in Trinidad and Tobago says China’s government wants to reduce the costs associated with supporting Chinese nationals who go abroad to work for Chinese firms. 

“Why we want to localise is very simple, because if you bring people there, you have to cover their travel, lodging, and food. But if you hire locally, all those problems disappear,” said vice- president of state-owned China Harbour Engineering Company, Lin Yichong.

The Express questioned Lin about concerns raised by labour unions in the past that local workers were deprived of employment opportunities on major construction projects undertaken by Chinese contractors such as the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA).

The Shanghai Construction Group brought hundreds of Chinese workers into the country for that project. 

Lin said apart from financial considerations, China’s government is also committed to hire more locals as part of a “mutually beneficial” relationship with its foreign partners. 

“Both parties, China and the other partner, must have mutually beneficial outcomes and in cases we also believe that it is important to give more locally, even at the expense of having a smaller return,” he said. 

But he explained that in some cases, it may not be practical to employ large numbers of non-Chinese workers.

“(Speaking to you) in a friendly way, sometimes it is very difficult,” he told the Express. “Even (though) you pay them enough, they don’t want (to) work. So if the time schedule is very tight, sometimes we have to negotiate. They want us to finish the job in time, if they ask us to hire more people, local people, we cannot be on time.”

Lin said his company is in talks with Trinidad and Tobago for four projects: two relocation projects in Port of Spain and work on two highways. He was reluctant to give details since he said discussions have not reached the final stage for the negotiation of contracts.