Chinese Workers

Anecdotes & Data

It’s widely believed that Chinese companies refuse to hire Africans and bring in all their own workers. The real story is more complicated. I’ve not yet seen a case of a Chinese company in Africa hiring no local workers at all, but the percentage of Chinese and Africans varies widely. Many factors affect this: local labor laws, the work permit regime, enforcement of work permits, the availability of skilled labor and its cost. In Angola, for example, emerging from decades of civil war, skilled and literate workers are scarce and expensive. Here, Chinese firms find it pays to import workers from China. In this note, I propose to collect information — where it exists — about the proportion of Chinese and Africans working on any given project, and the extent to which African managers and skilled labor are present.

1983 Sierra Leone Goma Hydropower dam: 600 local villagers, 105 Chinese (including 3 cooks) Source: Brautigam, Chinese Aid and African Development

1998 Sudan oil pipeline, Block 5A “highland location” 45 Sudanese, 15 Chinese. “Swamp crew” 30-40 Sudanese, 20-30 Chinese. Source: Human Rights Watch.

2007 Tanzania village water systems project: 50 Chinese engineers and technicians, 500 local workers. Source: Interview, Pascal Hamuli, January 2008.

2007 Zambia. China National Overseas Engineering Corporation. Ratio of 15 Zambians for every 1 Chinese. Source: The Guardian.

2007 Sudan. Merowe Dam. “Indeed, in our visit to the site and walk through the main construction area we were able to see many thousands of workers and even a change in work shifts, and it appears that about 10% of the construction workers are Chinese foreigners.”

2008 Ghana Bui Dam: 560 Ghanaians and 110 Chinese. At the peak, the work force was expected to be 2600 Ghanaians and 400 Chinese. Source: Labour Research and Policy Institute, Ghana, p. 115

2010 Mozambique stadium: 500 Chinese, 1000 Mozambicans. Source: The Africa Report

2010. Luanda stadium, Angola: 700 Chinese, 250 Angolans. Source: BBC News, The Africa Report.

2010. Angola: China Railway 20 Bureau Group rehabilitation of 540 km of the Benguela Railway between Munhango and Luau, employing 300 Chinese technicians and 300 Angolans. The 220 km to Luena is to be completed by May. Source: Railway Gazette

2010. Imboulou Dam: 2000 Congolese, 400 Chinese, 20 Germans. Congo Republic (Congo Brazzaville) Source: Reuters Africa.

2010. Zambia Collum Coal Mine: 62 Chinese supervisors, 855 (apparently Zambian) workers. Source: NYTimes

Ongoing. Dozens of the more recent China Eximbank financed projects listed at the Angolan Ministry of Finance website give information about Chinese versus Angolan workers, project by project. My calculations from this source, as of 2010, show an average ratio of 54 Angolans to 46 Chinese over 19 separate infrastructure projects. Source: Ministry of Finance, Angola

Also Angola: CITIC’s large housing project: General manager for CITIC said there were 10,000 Chinese workers and 5000 Angolans. Source: Xinhua, August 2011.

China Road and Bridges Corporation in Kenya since 1986: “At CRBC, the ratio of Chinese and local employees is around 1 to 15. At its harbor project in Mombassa, there are 1,371 Kenyan employees and 45 Chinese staff.” Source: China Daily, November 3 2011

The next set of information all comes from a survey of nine major Chinese companies in Rwanda done by a Chinese official in Rwanda, and shared with me. The numbers are as of January 2011.

  • China Road & Bridge Corporation (CRBC) came Rwanda in 1974 (only left for 3 months in 1994), built 70% of the roads here. At moment, they have 110 Chinese and 2,000 local workers here.
  • China Geo-Engineering Co. (CGEC) came 2000 for water/electricity supply projects. They have 110 Chinese and 800-4,000 local workers depending on differiate time and phases of projects.
  • China Civil Engineering Co. (CCECC) built a sports stadium late 1980s, and came back only in 2004, now building housing here with 50 Chinese and 300 locals.
  • Huawei is maintaining its project handed over in 2007 with 30 Chinese and 17 local technicians.
  • ZTE has 20 Chinese & 9 local technicians
  • Beijing Construction Engineering Group (BCEG) came recently with 140 Chinese and 500 local workers for the Kigali Conference Center.
  • Star Africa Media Co. for TV program got in as the first Chinese investor with 27,600 subscribers in the country. The working team is made up of 7 Chinese and 60 locals.]
  • Top International Engineering Co. is here building a new hospital donated by Chinese Government with 35 Chinese and 150 locals.
  • Henan International Cooperation Group for roads with 37 Chinese and 400 local workers.

2009. Maputo, Mozambique. About 700 local workers and 260 Chinese counterparts (O País Online, “Obras do estádio nacional paralisadas”, 29/4). from Jorge Njal, China Monitor (June 2012).

2011. China-Benin Textile Company. 5 Chinese, 1100 local staff.

2011. Anjin: Joint venture diamond mining: 210 Chinese among 1700 total workers.

2013. Survey by China Africa Business Council of 193 member companies in Africa found 34,000 local employees and 6,400 Chinese workers, or an average ratio of 2 Chinese workers to every 10 African workers.

2013. Equatorial Guinea Enrique Martino reports: no local EG laborers at all. 90% of the laborers are Chinese, and 10% come from Mali or Cameroon. (DB: this is consistent with what I have seen in the official data. In 2008, there were officially 3782 Chinese sent to EG for labor. This was the fourth highest number in Africa, coming behind Algeria, Sudan, and Angola. It probably reflects the small size of the population in EG, only 700,000 people, and the lack of skilled workers with construction experience.

2013. “Attracting Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Africa: Determinants and Policies – The Case of Guinea,” International Journal of Financial Research Vol. 4, No. 4; 2013. Authors: Diallo Mamadou Saliou Kokouma, & Kaning Xu. “[I]n 2002, Chinese company Yahé Shandong Guinea textile Complex bought the entire share capital of the former public textile factory Sanoyah. The company currently has 22 Chinese experts, 97 Guinean workers and 25 guards.”

2014 Itezhi Tezhi Hydropower Project, Zambia: 350 Zambians, 100 Chinese : [needs a better source for this].

2014. Grand Poubara dam, Sinohydro project. Sinohydro‘s website says that there were 1000 workers, 300 Chinese and 700 African.