Chinese migrant workers in the gambling industry: “Gold Rush” in the Philippines

New industries keep emerging as informative technology develops. In recent years, online gambling is becoming a popular sector, attracting young people from Taiwan and China to enter this sector. As gambling enterprises can easily obtain business license in the Philippines, they offer “favorable terms” to migrant workers from China. These workers are called “spinach eaters” as the Chinese term of “gambling” is pronounced like “spinach” in Chinese.


Starting from 2003, the Filipino Government has established some special economic zones, allowing gambling industry to operate in the SEZs. Many gambling enterprises are therefore operating in the Philippines and have gradually developed online gambling business in recent years. Most of their clients come from the mainland China and therefore, Chinese workers are urgently needed to serve the clients and run the business. According to the official statistics from the Filipino Government, over 200,000 Chinese workers applied work visas in 2018 and over 90% would be employed in the online gambling industry. Though some of the gambling enterprises have got business licenses, there are still many operating without licenses and therefore, employing these workers illegally.


Young workers often are attracted by the titles created by the labour agencies, such as “customer service officers”, “APPs testers”; and the high income they are promised with. However, they might not be aware that the gambling enterprises they work at are without licenses. It is not uncommon that upon their arrival, the employers would force them to sign unfair labour contracts, confiscate their passports. Many of these young workers borrow money from others to pay the “fees” to the labour agencies and are extremely vulnerable to resist exploitation.


As reported, their employers would arrange these migrant workers to live collectively. They are placed in a hotel, send to work and send back to the hotel with other colleagues and are subjected to their supervisors' surveillance. The supervisors often tell them such an arrangement is due to high crime rate. Yet, the reason behind is to cut them off from others, in order to prevent any unforeseeable problems for these illegal enterprises.


Once  a worker is tricked into entering this industry, he might face life-threatening risks. If he would make mistakes, such as leaking his clients' data, the enterprise would punish him harshly to protect its own interest. In other words, it is a modern form of human trafficking. The Chinese Government should pay closer attention to this industry and the related labour agencies, to protect its workers from exploitation while being employed overseas.