Competing interests | Macau Business

The recent controversy over possible financial assistance for Blue Card holders highlights divergent views on the role of non-resident workers. Lack of transparency in labor import policies is to blame, observers say

By Tony Lai

34,100 less

– Decrease in the number of non-resident employees in Macao since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

Shortly after the Macau Chamber of Commerce proposed in early August that local authorities consider giving MOP 3,000 (US$375) each in consumer vouchers to non-resident employees under the COVID-19 financial relief program of the government, many residents immediately vented their annoyance online with the influential local trade association. They accused the chamber of testing the waters for the government and argued that resources should first be invested in locals.

While officials immediately addressed the situation and promised that no financial support would be given to non-residents, this simmering tension between residents and non-resident workers, which has long been evident in the city, may continue to fluctuate. facing the bleak outlook for the local economy and labor market.

“The authorities have put up so many hurdles to prevent residents from getting the financial support and now they are just giving MOP 3,000 to non-resident employees?”, “Why isn’t the chamber fighting for more support for residents?”, “Fortunately, many residents have expressed their opposition; if not, the government would really do it,”… These are some of the many comments left by netizens online regarding the Macau Chamber of Commerce’s suggestions.

Political commentator Nelson Kot Man Kam believes that this outrage is the result of the government’s ineffective efforts to provide rapid assistance to residents during the last community outbreak of COVID-19 in June and July. The authorities have pledged two packages of MOP 10 billion each for the public in the face of the negative economic impact caused by the pandemic, and the first round of relief measures – including one-time grants for eligible employees and employers – is available since mid-2017. August while there have not yet been details on the second package of MOP 10 billion.

“Local employees and employers who are not eligible for the first MOP 10 billion package have already felt inflamed and neglected by the government,” Mr Kot said, pointing out that the suggestion for non-resident workers did not only to intensify the exasperation among these residents. Although non-resident employees suffered the same as residents during this latest outbreak and for the past two-plus years after the pandemic began, he adds, “Non-resident workers, unfortunately, have become target [in this wave of public vexation].”

Lack of transparency

“Tension between locals and non-resident workers still exists in Macao,” says Eilo Yu Wing Yat, associate professor of government and public administration at the University of Macao. “This tension is not only happening in Macau but also in other parts of the world…because locals are afraid of enjoying fewer resources in the face of competition with non-locals.”

The academic adds that the issue of non-resident employees has always been “politicized” here. For example, the government has made numerous promises over the past decade that casino croupier positions – which are seen by locals as well-paying jobs that do not require specific skills – would not be open to the public. import of labor.

The “long-term lack of transparency” in labor import policies and measures has mainly caused and maintained this tension between the two parties, adds the researcher. “Although the authorities regularly publish data on non-resident employees, there is no detailed breakdown of the distribution of non-resident employees between the different workstations on which the public wishes to know more”, illustrates he. “There have also been talks for years that many local businesses only hire residents in exchange for the labor import quota.”

The recent downturn in the local economy and deteriorating labor market due to the COVID-19 pandemic have heightened the tension again, Prof Yu said. Macau’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell three consecutive quarters, with the last drop of 39.3% in the second quarter of 2022 due to the last local community epidemic and waves of sporadic cases in neighboring regions, according to the latest official data. Since the start of the pandemic, the city has seen positive growth in only two out of 10 quarters.

Local employment has also deteriorated in recent months. According to the Statistics and Census Service, the territory’s overall unemployment rate stood at 4.1% in May-July 2022, the highest level since September-November 2005, while the Resident unemployment was only 5.4%. during the period May-July 2022, the highest level since this data was available in 2008. The overall underemployment rate in Macau between May and July 2022 – employees who involuntarily work less than 35 hours per week – also hit a record high of 13.4%, the first time such data was available in 1996.

“Tension between locals and non-resident workers still exists in Macau… [and it] does not only happen in Macau but also in other parts of the world…because the locals are afraid of enjoying less resources in the face of competition with non-locals,” says academic Eilo Yu

Colorful lanterns are seen at Largo Do Senado in Macao, southern China, Sept. 3, 2022. (Xinhua/Cheong Kam Ka)

Social stability

“Guaranteeing local employment is a major key to social stability,” acknowledges lawmaker Nick Lei Leong Wong. “If the local unemployment rate skyrockets, it will create different social problems.”

During a question-and-answer session at the Legislative Assembly in early August, Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng promised the authorities to adopt “a proactive attitude” to control the local unemployment rate, and jobs in all industries would be made available to residents. as long as they were interested.

The Labor Affairs Bureau also said in a statement that authorities held 17 job-matching sessions in August alone to offer 889 jobs to residents in conjunction with gambling and resort operators, the Macau Banking Association and Macau Federation of Trade Unions. In late August, authorities successfully helped 4,156 residents land new jobs, surpassing the full-year 2021 tally of 3,233, the office added.

Along with a wide range of measures deployed by the authorities to tackle local unemployment, including subsidized vocational training courses for residents, the government has also reduced the size of non-resident workers. Nevertheless, Mr. Lei points out that although there has been a significant drop in the number of non-resident employees over the past two years, the unemployment rate for residents has remained at a high level. The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Affairs show that the number of non-resident workers fell by 17.4% – or more than 34,100 fewer employees – from 196,538 at the end of 2019 to almost 162,400 at the end of June 2022.

The authorities should therefore not “blindly” reduce the size of non-residents but carefully consider the employment needs of residents, he adds. “The government should reduce the labor import quota in positions that residents are willing and able to fill, including administrative positions in gambling operators, banks, brand marketing and retail sale”, remarks the legislator. “Authorities should ensure businesses make room for residents in these positions.”

“Securing local employment is a major key to social stability,” said lawmaker Nick Lei Leong Wong

Key for SMEs

“Different stakeholders have different views on the issue of resident and non-resident workers,” said Fong Kin Fu, president of the Federal General Trade Association of Macau Small and Medium Enterprises. “Residents who have lost their jobs lately are generally workers in the gambling, construction and other sectors, and many of them are interested in seeking new employment in the same segment,” the man said. business. “But it’s hard to do that given the current state of the gaming industry.”

In the first seven months of this year, gross gaming revenue fell 53.6% year-on-year to MOP 26.67 billion, which is just 15.3% of pre-pandemic levels . The lackluster performance was due to the impact of COVID-19, as well as heightened scrutiny of the gaming industry, namely the disappearance of local junket operators following the arrest of junket bosses Alvin Chau Cheok Wa and Levo Chan Weng Lin since the end of last year.

“Despite the higher unemployment rate among residents in recent times, local small and medium-sized businesses [SMEs] continue to face recruitment difficulties as residents are not interested in working for SMEs due to falling wages”, illustrates Mr. Fong, assuring the importance of non-local labor in the economy. local level, in particular the operation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Although there have been reports that the government has strictly reduced the labor import quota of enterprises in light of the rising unemployment rate among residents, the president of the SME chamber indicates that most of the cases relate to companies’ unused quota. “For example, if a company has a quota of 10 non-resident workers, the authorities could only renew the quota for nine of them; for those who have only a few quotas, they have mostly remained unscathed,” he adds.

“Despite the higher unemployment rate among residents in recent times, local small and medium-sized businesses [SMEs] continue to face recruitment difficulties as residents are not interested in working for SMEs due to declining wages,” says Fong Kin Fu, representative of an SME association

Social rise

Transparent rules and measures to accelerate the upward mobility of residents are also important, apart from simply creating jobs. “The public knows it’s unrealistic for Macau not to rely on non-residents,” Lei said. “For example, non-residents are of paramount importance in the development of certain emerging and high-tech industries here.”

“What is essential is that the government helps companies to have clear mechanisms and plans to encourage residents to fill mid- to high-level management positions, [some of which are occupied by non-residents at the moment]“, illustrates the legislator. “Otherwise there will never be a chance for the locals to move up the career ladder.”

Ultimately, resident and non-resident workers should not be pitted against each other. “[What residents ultimately concern] It’s not about non-resident workers… it’s about whether they can find jobs and whether they can find suitable jobs,” Prof Yu adds.

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