Macau casino labor leaders deny ‘aggravated disobedience’ accusations

macau-labor-leader-accusationsFive leaders of a Macau casino workers association have been accused of aggravated disobedience following a street protest last month. On Aug. 25, leaders of the Forefront of Macau Gaming (FMG) labor association led a street march of local casino workers that targeted all six Macau casino concessionaires. FMG is advocating for higher salaries and benefits for rank-and-file casino staff, table dealers in particular.

Casino operator MGM Macau was spared the brunt of the August street march after the Public Security Police (PSP) told the hundreds of protesters to give the casino a miss due to traffic concerns. Some of FMG’s group continued on toward the MGM property anyway, only turning back after the police persuaded them it would be a really dumb idea. Two weeks following this protest, during which time FMG ramped up more targeted labor actions, PSP let the idea float that FMG’s leaders could face charges. The FMG claimed police were attempting to intimidate them into curtailing their quest for labor justice.

On Monday, FMG held a press conference identifying the five accused, which include president Ieong Man Teng, secretary general Cloee Chao and VP Lei Kuok Keong. Not for nothing, but the three leaders had recently been quoted at length in mainstream western media outlets. Macau’s casinos are currently mired in an unprecedented revenue swoon that shows no sign of abating, creating all sorts of ‘sky is falling’ pronouncements in the west. The labor strife is a nice addition to that narrative, like putting sprinkles on a donut.

The FMG leadership denied the accusations and took police to task for questioning their relatives for information instead of asking the five directly. A PSP spokesman said police would only comment on the matter after they’d acquired “sufficient information.”

Lei acknowledged that FMG might see a reduction in its numbers the next time it calls for labor action. FMG had threatened to target SJM Holdings casinos during the upcoming Golden Week holiday, a traditionally lucrative period that casinos hope will offset some of the past three-months-and-counting declines.

Meanwhile, another labor group met with Macau’s Human Resources Office on Monday to push for a reduction in the number of imported workers. The Macau Gaming Enterprises Staff Association (MGESA) championed staff in jobs like cleaning and food & beverage, who earn around half the average casino dealer’s salary.

Macau law reserves dealer jobs for local residents but casinos are allowed to import a certain percentage of non-frontline workers. MGESA, which is affiliated with the Macao Federation of Trade Unions, says if the casinos won’t pay their grunts a living wage, they should face further curbs on their ability to import other non-skilled workers from abroad. The government has promised to take the idea under consideration.