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A Fog Of ‘Facts’

Workers still prefer a full-smoking ban. Plus smoking-free environment in casinos. So say local labour unions. Despite recent survey results claiming over half of respondents support smoking lounges. A union legislator urges the gov’t to put the health of workers front and centre, not numbers.

As unionist legislator Ella Lei Cheng I condemned the government’s softened stance on the establishment of smoking lounges for the full-smoking ban bill, local labour union group representatives said most workers still prefer working in a smoking-free environment.
On Monday, the city’s major six gaming operator released the results of a survey conducted by the University of Macau on employees’ sentiments regarding the implementation of a full-smoking ban and the establishment of smoking lounges, which states that 60 per cent of the 14,301 surveyed employees of the operators ‘support solutions that allow smoking lounges.’
The legislator, also vice president of The Macau Federation of Trade Unions, urged yesterday that the government does not simply consider the number of supporters to determine its stance of such set-ups, stressing that those who hold opposite opinions should not be ignored.
She was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the media Spring luncheon of the Legislative Assembly.
Following the release of survey results, the city’s Health Bureau announced in a press release on Monday evening that it would cautiously consider the decision of whether to allow smoking lounges in casinos based upon the survey results, stressing that this move was not a compromise with the local gaming corporations.
But this statement is described as paradoxical by the unionist legislator, who also criticised the ignorance of the operators regarding the research results.
She opined that the government should make a decision in consideration of workers’ health rather than solely looking at a survey number.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) has already revealed that smoking lounges cannot guarantee the health of employees,” said Ms. Lei. “[The operators] say they are introducing a high standard smoking lounge but what is exactly meant by that?”
The full-smoking ban bill is currently under discussion by a standing committee of the AL, having passed its first reading in 2015.
Smoking is currently prohibited on the mass gaming floors of local casinos, and is only permitted in smoking lounges and VIP rooms. The government-backed bill, meanwhile, proposes to ban smoking in all indoor areas of gaming venues, as well as eliminating current smoking lounges.

Doubtful proposal
Cloee Chao, president of the New Macau Gaming Professionals Association (NMGPA), expressed doubts about the survey results.
“According to my knowledge, most of the members support a universal smoking ban in casinos,” she told Business Daily in a phone interview yesterday, adding that her Association is conducting another survey asking gaming workers’ about their stance on the issue, the results of which will be submitted to the Legislative Assembly at a later date.
In addition, Choi Kam Fu, the director-general of the Macau Gaming Enterprises Staff Association under the same union of the legislator said that based upon a similar survey conducted by his group the majority of workers wish to work in a smoking-free environment.
Saying he does not have any particular comments on the latest survey of the six gaming operators, Mr. Choi, however, perceives that the proposed standards of the smoking lounges are unclear.
The general-director reiterated that gaming workers deserve to work in an environment without the impact of second-hand smoke, as other industries do.

Not a waste
Meanwhile, the president of the Legislative Assembly, Ho Iat Seng, said that the bill proposing a full smoking ban will not be abandoned even if the establishment of smoking lounges is permitted.
“It will only revise the bill [for the full smoking ban],” the AL head explained to reporters on the sidelines of yesterday’s event.
According to the president, documents related to the bill have been completed and sent back to the government for revision while the AL sub-committee is still waiting for the return of the documents from the government.
“Once they send us back the related documents, we will enter the procedure of deliberation,” he said.
Asked whether the government is being active in making the smoking ban law come into effect, the AL head commented that the “reply is active but the document has yet to be received”.
Questioned whether the introduction of the smoking lounges would counter the original intention of the bill, Mr. Ho remarked that the notion would only be determined by the government.

Angela Leong: “Not pressuring government”
Meanwhile, Angela Leong On Kai, legislator and executive director of casino operator SJM Holdings Ltd., said that gaming operators do not intend to pressure the MSAR Government by conducting the survey.
Stressing her absence in participating in the discussion of the smoking ban in the Assembly, Ms. Leong said she has always advocated “ensuring the health of her employees.”
The discussion between the two parties on the smoking matter, according to Ms. Leong, is positive.
The setting up of the smoking lounges, said Ms. Leong, will “definitely meet the standard made by the Health Bureau as well as international requirements”, adding that the main purpose of the proposal is to protect employees’ “body and mind.”
Asked if the introduction of smoking lounges would counter the initial intention of the bill the gaming boss said, “a smoking lounge and full smoking ban is consistent”.
“The most important thing is that no-one would smoke at gaming tables and no-one is affected by second-hand smoke,” remarked Ms. Leong. “But of course one has to look at the standards of the lounges.”
If the establishment of smoking lounges is not adopted, the SJM executive director believes that the gaming business would be affected.
“Smoking is still part of the freedom,” Ms. Leong told reporters. “Unless the government is prohibiting the import of tobacco – and I totally support this.”
She also claimed that “the city is harmonious” and as such she believes there is no act of pressure being performed by the operators, opining that “the Health Bureau needs to consider the government’s coffers.”

Ho Iat Seng interested in re-election
The current president of the Legislative Assembly (AL), Ho Iat Seng, has expressed his interest in re-running for the upcoming Legislative Assembly election in Summer. An indirectly elected member of the Assembly since 2009, Mr. Ho has headed the legislature since 2003. Mr. Ho told reporters yesterday that the business industry has not yet nominated candidates for this year’s election, but he said he would continue serving the legislature if the industry recommends him again.

Pousada De Sao Tiago Hotel to suspend operations
Pousada de São Tiago Hotel, located near Sai Van Lake on the Peninsula, will temporarily suspend operations from March due to the construction of the nearby LRT project, said Angela Leong On Kei yesterday. The businesswoman stressed that the hotel would not be permanently closed, saying employees would be welcome to work in other SJM properties according to their preference. Claiming the business of the hotel has never been outstanding, Ms. Leong stressed that she would not consider shutting down the property given its historical value.