embers from Macau Gaming Industry Frontline Workers marched through some of the busiest streets in the city and stopped at all of the city’s biggest casinos including Sands China, Galaxy Entertainment Group and SJM Holdings. They waved banners, blew whistles and shouted slogans.
Cloee Chao, secretary general of the labor union, said more than 7,000 employees took part, while police put the number at 1,400.
Joey Au Yeung, a casino dealer of seven years at MGM China Holdings and one of the demonstrators, said almost half of her monthly salary of 17,000 patacas (US$ 2,130) goes to pay rent and it’s difficult to make ends meet.
“I have to rent and live in a 300 square-foot flat with my three kids and my husband, with little hope of owning a house,” said Au Yeung, who works six days a week, including two night shifts. “I have no time to spend with my kids.”
The protest comes as casino operators face worsening labor strains as some of them near completion on new resorts in China’s only city where casinos are legal, requiring thousands more workers starting from next year. The tensions also coincide with a Beijing government bent on rooting out corruption and money laundering, via a crackdown that’s already hit gambling revenues.
Police officers and security guards put up barricades, with some of them holding hands, in front of casinos to prevent the demonstrators from getting near the properties.
Chao said the union is demanding a 10 percent pay increase for all workers below manager’s level, especially for dealers. It’s also demanding a rule barring foreign workers from taking dealers’ jobs, and extend smoking bans to all parts of the casinos, said Chao, who’s a pit supervisor at Wynn Macau.
The union, which Chao helped set up in 2012, has about 10,000 members and half of whom are dealers, she said.
The march ended in front of the office of Macau’s Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on. The march didn’t pass the property owned by MGM China Holdings as police had denied permission due to traffic conditions, said Chao.
Rising labor costs are expected to trim Galaxy’s profit margin by 1 percent to 1.5 percent, Deputy Chairman Francis Lui said last week, adding the company will start to recruit 8,000 workers at the end of this year for its resort’s expansion. Macau casinos’ labor costs will rise 10 percent to 15 percent per annum in the coming years, thereby eroding margins, Deutsche Bank analyst Karen Tang wrote in a note last month.
Spokespeople for Sands China, SJM, Wynn Macau, Melco Crown Entertainment didn’t immediately comment when contacted about the union’s demands. Galaxy declined to comment.
The city’s biggest demonstration by casino workers on record took place last October, involving 3,000 protesters, according to a spokesman from Macau’s Government Information Bureau, who asked not to be named citing the bureau’s policy.
Macau is also under pressure for political change with Beijing-backed Chui up for re-election on Aug. 31, as activists started a week-long poll on Sunday to gauge support for universal suffrage, the Global Times reported on its website.
The election’s result is a foregone conclusion as Chui is the sole candidate seeking another five-year term in office, the Chinese government-owned newspaper reported yesterday.