Last August, a group of casino workers from the Forefront of Macau Gaming Association, or FMG, gathered on the streets of Macau to march for better wages. For the most part, the march was a peaceful one. The protesters paraded in front of Macau's six casinos, although the neighborhood of MGM Macau received the least amount of foot traffic due to police intervention. Macau's Public Security Police, or PSP, directed the protesters to march away from the MGM Macau due to logistical traffic concerns. Some of the workers pressed on toward the MGM anyway, defying the orders of the police in attempt to get their message across.
SJM Holdings Targeted
In the fortnight following the August protest, more labor union demonstrations sprouted up in Macau. The demonstrations were led by unhappy casino workers seeking higher wages and better working conditions. On August 30, for example, approximately 600 workers at the Grand Lisboa, owned by SJM Holdings, called in sick. The majority of these workers were baccarat dealers. As a result of this act, Grand Lisboa managers had to scramble to recruit workers from other casinos to cover the shifts. The managers quickly changed their sick leave policy, stating that from now on, “sick” workers will have to bring in a note verifying their illness from a pre-approved doctor.
In early September, approximately 700 casino workers picketed the outside of the same building. The major complaint at this picketing event was the fact that Grand Lisboa workers are paid less than those who hold comparable jobs at Macau's other five gambling houses. Signs held by the protesters urged administrators to give casino workers a fair raise, stating, “The same work, the same salary.”
SJM Holdings Tries to Ameliorate Workers
In attempt to quell the unrest of its workers, SJM Holdings offered to provide each employee a yearly bonus equivalent to two extra months' salary. This stipend would continue at least through 2020, when the casino's license expires. The FMG rejected SJM Holdings' offer, however, stating that they would like a ten percent raise in addition to the two-month bonus. Members of the labor group also quipped that they would like to see employment conditions improve for casino workers in general.
FMG Leaders Now Being Prosecuted
As a result of these protests, five FMG leaders are now being legally prosecuted by police for “aggravated disobedience.” Those under fire include FMG president Ieong Man Teng, vice president Lei Kuok Keong, and secretary Cloee Chao. Chinese police reportedly questioned the FMG leaders' family members rather than the leaders themselves. The five accused have denied all wrongdoing and have publicly questioned why the police interrogated their family members instead of coming to them directly.
Another Possible Protest During Golden Week Holiday
In spite of police allegations of aggravated disobedience, FMG members remain determined to express their employment concerns publicly. It's been whispered that there may be another FMG protest during Macau's upcoming Golden Week holiday, which begins on October 1. Golden Week is a national celebration in China in which workers traditionally take three or more paid days off. The vacation days are often combined with two weekends to make an even longer holiday. During this time, the casinos of Macau stand to take in a lot of revenue. This year in particular, Macau's gambling houses could use the sort of business that accompanies a national week off; revenue plummeted six percent last month in the country's casino industry. If FMG workers decide to call in sick, picket, or organize some other form of protest during Golden Week, however, Macau casino profits could suffer.
Complaints from the Macau Gaming Enterprises Staff Association
The FMG isn't the only unhappy labor union in China. The Macau Gaming Enterprises Staff Association, or MGESA, is digging in its heels on an issue of its own: imported casino workers. While Macau law specifically states that all Macau dealers must be local citizens, the cleaning, food, and beverage staff in those casinos may be imported from other areas. These imported workers are the equivalent of U.S. outsourcing; they earn less money than domestic workers and are, therefore, a convenient way for gambling houses to protect their dwindling profits.
The MGESA recently held a meeting with the Human Resources Office of Macau to present their demands. The group would like to see all casino workers receive a decent raise. If workers don't start making more money, MGESA argues that the number of imported workers ought to be curbed. If Chinese authorities can't pay their own locals a decent living wage, the MGESA argues, they shouldn't be permitted to pay peanuts to imported workers simply because they're willing to work for less.
Labor Unions in China
China is home to hundreds of millions of laborers. In the last few years, workers in all industries have become increasingly aware of their right to protest their working conditions. In fact, over 1,000 labor strikes have taken place in China since June of 2011.
In addition to these smaller unions, the country of China has an official labor union called the All China Federation of Trade Unions, or ACFTU. The ACFTU was established in 1925. Its primary goal is to protect the interests of its members and mobilize them to take action for themselves. According to ACFTU members, however, this union does a poor job representing its constituents.
Some people are surprised to learn that China has labor unions. Indeed, the recent activity of labor unions in China is a positive sign for workers who feel oppressed by their superiors. Whether Chinese unions like the FMG and MGESA get their way in the end remains to be seen. For now, however, casino union groups in China continue to express their concerns about the unfairness of industry labor practices in Macau.