The declaration by Macau’s Chief Executive that the city’s casino operators should provide housing for their migrant workers raises “complex” issues, says a senior industry executive.
Grant Bowie (pictured), chief executive of MGM China Holdings Ltd, operator of MGM Macau, on Wednesday told local media: “I think it’s quite complex but we need to understand it. I think the issue still stands that Macau struggles with land. We also need to collaborate and understand where we should be building these types of facilities – if that’s the expectation…”
Macau’s political leader, Fernando Chui Sai On, on Saturday raised the issue of non-resident casino worker accommodation during the outlining of his re-election manifesto.
He wants casino operators to provide housing and transportation to their migrant workers. The shortage and cost of private sector accommodation for Macau permanent residents has become a hot political issue in Macau, which needs to import workers to run and sustain the current size of its casino industry. The city has an unemployment rate of only 1.7 percent. It is not clear however whether Mr Chui sees his policy proposal as a way of freeing existing housing stock for locals.
Imported workers increased by 28.2 percent year-on-year to 155,310 at the end of June 2014 – the most recent numbers available – representing 39.8 percent of Macau’s employed population, according to Macau’s Human Resources Office.
The existing rules in Macau oblige all local companies to provide housing to their migrant workers or pay them a monthly housing allowance of at least MOP500 (US$62.60). The amount was set in 2010 and since then has not been adjusted for inflation.
Were the government at this stage of the existing gaming concessions to require the six operators to build new homes for migrant workers, it could represent a significant and as yet unbudgeted capital cost. MGM China’s current concession expires in 2020 along with that of SJM Holdings Ltd. The other four expire in 2022.
Mr Chui has yet to elaborate on what he means by demanding casino operators “facilitate” the provision of housing and transportation to their migrant workers, know locally as ‘non-resident workers’ or ‘blue card holders’.
MGM China boss Mr Bowie, giving his reaction to Mr Chui’s idea, was speaking on the sidelines of the launch for its 4th International Lion Dance Championship, to be held in early November.
Mr Bowie stated: “…I think the Chief Executive has raised important issues and we need to sit down with the government and work through the issues and one of those things firstly is understanding exactly what the expectations are, working collaboratively together.” He added the industry and the government had an “ongoing dialogue” on a range of issues of mutual interest.
Pay and conditions
Mr Bowie was also asked if he was concerned that MGM China might become the next target of local labour activist group Forefront of the Macao Gaming. The group’s latest protest on Tuesday targeted SJM Holdings Ltd for a second time, following earlier protests outside Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd’s StarWorld Hotel, and outside Sands China Ltd’s Sands Macao and Venetian Macao casino resorts.
The MGM China boss said: “There’s obviously been a lot of talk that the association in Macau is obviously targeting many of the gaming operators. We have to keep talking to our team members and we continue to do that and will do that. This is an interesting time, and this is just another facet of business, which we as managers and leaders in business need to look at and address.”
Asked if he thought MGM Macau salaries and conditions were enough to “fend off” the threat of a call for a strike, Mr Bowie said: “We don’t look at anything in an aggressive way. We look at it as a collaborative situation. We’re happy to talk with our team members. Everybody has many different views of what they are looking for and we want to sit down and talk. We obviously can’t address everybody individually. We need to find programmes that are collectively acceptable.”
The gaming CEO added: “I think our salaries are competitive. But I don’t think it’s just about salaries. I think some of the discussions are about other benefits and services. And I think we need to sit down and again collaborate. The key issue is, as long as the discussions are about finding solutions and not just about creating noise, then that’s fine.”
MGM China’s Grant Bowie on Wednesday stressed that it wasn’t only the casino dealers that mattered – although under Macau’s current casino business model, most of the revenue comes from gambling, and most of that from live dealer table games.
“We have to consider all our employees,” stated Mr Bowie. “Over 80 percent of our employees are Macau citizens, and only 50 percent of those are dealers. So there are large numbers of Macau citizens who are not in gaming, and we obviously need to create competitive and fair packages for all our employees and not focus our attention just on one individual group.”
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Aggregate number of visitors to Macau during the Chinese New Year holiday period