At least two Macau casino labour groups are preparing to hold separate rallies on May 1, which in Macau is known as Labour Day and has become associated in recent years with street protests on a range of social issues.
Aside from higher salaries, both groups of gaming workers are demanding tighter restrictions on imported labour in the gaming sector.
The Macau Gaming Enterprises Staff Association, affiliated with the influential Macau Federation of Trade Unions, on Monday announced it would take to the streets on Labour Day, Macau-based Portuguese-language newspaper Jornal Tribuna de Macau reported.
Leong Sun Iok, deputy director of the Federation of Trade Unions, was quoted saying local casino workers are dissatisfied with promotion policies by the city’s casino operators. Mr Leong added local workers found that employers do not give priority to local employees when promoting their staff.
The union leader also accused gaming operators of paying higher wages to imported workers for the same type of work.
The Federation of Trade Unions is considered to be close to the Macau government. The grouping of local workers – with an estimated membership of 70,000 – was successful last year in lobbying the government to implement a full smoking ban in the casino industry.
A second labour group, called the ‘Gaming Employees Advance Association’, also announced a protest on May 1. President Willis Chen expects more than 1,000 people to join the rally, Jornal Tribuna de Macau additionally reported.
The association – recently established – will demand the government not allow casino operators to hire imported labour as gaming table dealers. The government already has such a ban, mentioned in writing. But in recent years some gaming workers have agitated for the ban to be enshrined in a statute, which the government has resisted on the basis it is not necessary. Nonetheless Macau’s current Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On has stated several times he would maintain – during his present second term which ends in 2019 – such a prohibition on non-locals being dealers.
Mr Chen said his group would also ask for better compensation for staff working night shifts and fairer policies on shift work. The labour platform is also demanding that workers that have to stand for long periods of time – including some table games dealers – be entitled to a 20-minute break each hour.
In a note on Monday, Union Gaming Research LLC analysts Christopher Jones and John DeCree said, regarding margins for Macau operators in current market conditions – that saw gross gaming revenue market wide fall 37 percent in the first quarter: “We are expecting some level of margin degradation as operators are compelled by the Macau government to provide corporate welfare to…employees. We do wonder how much longer operators will play along, if trends don’t start to improve.”
Labour protests from workers across the community are common in Macau on Labour Day. But casino employees are becoming increasingly vocal as shown last year, when gaming workers staged several protests, demanding pay raises and improvements in working and promotion policies. The peak of the protests was a march targeting the six Macau gaming operators in August – organisers at the time estimated that about 7,000 people participated in the demonstration, although police put the attendance at around 1,400 people.
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"The [Macau] government has a lead in this subject in regards to what should be done after the [gaming] concessions expire. We will be first listening to what the government will say”
Ambrose So Shu Fai
Vice-chairman and chief executive at Macau casino operator SJM Holdings