Notes From The Margin

July 17, 2007

Crimson Tide – Chinese Construction Companies in the Caribbean

The presence of the Chinese labourers at the Four Season’s work site has provoked much comment in the blogosphere and in the mainstream media over the past few weeks. However, a quick check showed articles from around the Caribbean discussing Chinese construction firms at work in the Caribbean. Most notably in Trinidad and Grenada but stories can be heard from all over.

One of the more interesting articles actually came from a Canadian newspaper The Star. In discussing the Chinese involvement in the Grenada stadium the author mused:

What’s in it for China, besides a few UN votes?

That may seem less obvious but, when seen in broader context, it is clear that this was an opportunity for China to showcase its engineering know-how and offshore construction capabilities.

Indeed, throughout the developing world, Chinese consortia are increasingly undercutting competitors ā€“ including some of Canada’s top engineering firms ā€“ with high-quality turnkey projects at unbeatable prices.

All over Africa, for example, Chinese engineers and construction workers have become a ubiquitous presence, providing sorely needed development assistance and complementing the work of China’s peacekeepers and diplomats to establish their country as a global force to be reckoned with.

To get to the point, Chinese involvement in construction in the Caribbean is likely to be around for the foreseeable future. The question is, will the Chinese firms be subject to the same rules? Will they have to pay National Insurance? Will they be subject to minimum wage legislation where applicable? Will they be forced to find accomodation for their workers? And for the record a container on the construction site is not acceptable, health laws actually don’t permit it. Will they be subject to the new occupational health and safety legislation? All of these add to the contractor’s cost, but they protect the worker from being forced to accept what many here would consider to be sub human conditions, (in short conditions like what Chinese workers apparently accept)

If those workers’ skins were black, we wouldn’t be so blase about their working conditions. Our shared history wouldn’t allow us to be. I don’t see why our attitude should be any different because it isn’t.


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