Philippine workers angling to get in on Guam labor contracts
As officials contemplate the amount and source of skilled construction workers needed on Guam to build facilities to accommodate the 8,000 Marines who will begin arriving from Okinawa in 2008, a government delegation from the Philippines is making a bid to supply labor.
Officials in charge of the country’s overseas employment administration spent three days on the island last week to discuss filling the void with Philippine manpower.
“We have been monitoring the activities here,” said Philippine Consul Raquel Solano. “This was a head start to market Filipino workers.”
Some $15 billion worth of military construction is expected to take place during the next 10 years on Guam and will require as many as 20,000 skilled workers. The U.S. territorial island currently has about 5,000 construction workers, according the Guam Department of Labor.
The initiative coincided with invitations from the department and the Guam Legislature for the Philippine government to educate Guam officials on the country’s overseas labor procedures.
The delegation was headed by Rosalinda Baldoz, chairwoman of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. They met with Gov. Felix Camacho, lawmakers, labor department officials and the Guam Contractors Association.
Though U.S. federal law currently prohibits foreign nationals from working on U.S. bases on Guam, there is a broad consensus the law will have to be changed to handle the expected boom in military construction.
“We need to get that amended,” said Camacho, who is running for re-election in November.
In addition, the national cap on labor visas affects Guam, which is included with the rest of the United States for immigration purposes and often loses out in the competition for visa slots.
“The delegation wanted to convey their support for the lifting of the visa caps,” Solano said.
Particularly since World War II, Guam has relied on workers from the Philippines to solve labor shortages. While local contractors see outside labor as the only feasible source, they also are concerned about abuses.
Among those concerns is assurance that workers claiming to be skilled are, in fact, certified as skilled.
“[The delegation] wanted to let us know what the processes are and the credentials that they’re looking for before these people actually get here,” said James Martinez, executive director of the Guam Contractors Association.
“That’s our concern, too,” he added, “because we don’t know if the people that are coming here are in fact true carpenters or plumbers or masons. We needed some kind of a certification procedure to determine that and they say that they’ve got that in place already.”
The contractor’s association has been working on its own certification procedure for foreign workers.
The delegation acknowledged some companies have secured worker visas without going through appropriate Philippine agencies.
“It jeopardizes the workers to some degree,” said John Robertson, a committee chairman with the contractors’ association. “But also the contractors or others that engage in that type of activity are actually committing a criminal offense.”