A labour group that in October rallied at least 3,000 people to the streets of downtown Macau to pressure the government on casino staffing policy, says it plans a protest on Wednesday outside the Venetian Macao.
The group – Forefront of the Macao Gaming – claims the latest action is because it has had no response from the casino resort’s operator Sands China Ltd, a unit of Las Vegas Sands Corp, over what the association calls a “reasonable” request to increase by approximately 10 percent across the board the pay of casino floor staff working on table games at the firm’s properties.
Ieong Man Teng, president of Forefront of the Macao Gaming, on Monday evening told GGRAsia: “We are seeking a 10 percent pay increase for dealers and supervisors. This request is a reasonable one. There are staff who have been many years in the company that have not had pay increases that keep pace with inflation.”
Macau’s unemployment rate was a lowly 1.7 percent in the March to May period according to official data. Worker shortages are a recurring issue for all employers in the territory. The supply of fresh labour from within the permanent resident population has not kept pace with economic growth. Unlike in Singapore, where some casino dealers hail from Malaysia and even Taiwan, the Macau government has barred non-residents from being casino dealers.
In other developments on Monday, another local labour group called the Gaming Employees Association handed a petition to the government’s Labour Affairs Bureau. It claimed that Sands China dealers currently working 40 hours per week are to be excluded from a salary rise due to take effect next month. Those working 48 hours per week will qualify for the rise, says the Gaming Employees Association.
When contacted by GGRAsia on Monday, Sands China didn’t comment on the protest outside the Venetian planned by Forefront of the Macao Gaming, or the protest’s purported causes.
Sands China did however send a three-paragraph statement to us outlining steps the company said it had taken to enhance “its team member structure and benefits scheme in view of the company’s business development, labour supply and business operation”, and which were part of a master plan in place since last year.
The company stressed that it had widely consulted its Macau staff about its approach to pay and conditions.
Sands China said: “The plan was created based on comments and views collected from 148 communication sessions and 58 focus group sessions attended by 2,100 team members, comprising 3,100 total communication hours. Additional team member feedback and suggestions were also received through various internal communication channels accessible by team members.”
Mr Ieong told GGRAsia his association “does not have members” but acts as an umbrella group to lobby on behalf of workers.
Among the demands of the labour group are that dealers currently training to be dealer supervisors, should all automatically be promoted by the middle of next year.
Sands China on Monday told us it had recently announced “the promotion of all assistant pit managers to level two pit managers (PM2).”
The company added: “Last week, Sands China Ltd further announced that, effective August 1, qualified dealers will be promoted to pit supervisors and all level one pit managers (PM1) will be promoted to pit managers (PM). Communication sessions on the announcement are being conducted in order to continue to receive feedback from team members.”
Sands China on July 3 said it would pay its staff “a special award” bonus this month. The company is paying the equivalent of one month’s salary to more than 27,000 full time employees at “manager grade and below”.
According to government data, casino dealers in Macau earned on average MOP16,710 (US$2,093) per month by the end of last year, up by 4.5 percent in year-on-year terms. Inflation in Macau went up by 5.5 percent over the same period, meaning that when judged by basic salary, the purchasing power of dealers actually dropped last year.
But the figures from the Statistics and Census Service exclude double pay, year-end bonuses, profit share schemes and “similar” arrangements, according to the bureau’s website.
Average monthly salaries for all Macau casino dealers are currently 27 percent higher than the MOP13,163 that Macau dealers earned in the fourth quarter of 2007. But in the same period casino revenue has risen by nearly 335 percent.
Forefront of the Macao Gaming – a body registered as a local association – has developed a reputation for being able to mobilise street protests on single-issue questions. It helped to bring – by police estimates – at least 3,000 to the streets in October 2013. The organisers claimed 10,000. That event was to make clear locals’ opposition to having non-resident workers as casino dealers. It was followed up by the March 2 rally of 1,300 by police estimates – 3,000 were claimed by Forefront of the Macao Gaming – calling for the government to stick to the letter of the table cap designed to control the expansion of the city’s casino industry.
Sands China additionally told GGRAsia in its email: “In the first six months of 2014, Sands China launched several programmes in its team member master plan: earlier-than-usual January pay as a special arrangement in light of the Chinese New Year holiday; the payment of a bonus in February to all eligible full-time team members; a company-wide salary increase in March; [and] a special award of one-month’s additional salary for all manager grade and below team members in July, to be paid annually through 2017…”
(Updated at 9.35am, July 22)
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