As tempers reach boiling point on the issue of imported labour, some say legislation in the area is not clear enough, while others believe it is up to companies to take a different approach to hiring Macau’s labour market is a frenetic place these days: if it’s not angry local workers clashing with police over their demands for meetings with top officials, it’s the police uncovering criminal scams by employers to get round the laws governing foreign worker quotas. All this has led the government to adopt a get-tough attitude. Recently, the Secretary for Economy and Finance announced the creation of a blacklist for companies who get involved in shady labour importation practices, and the Human Resources Office say they are going to strengthen supervision. The government is also set to review all requests to hire non-resident workers. Human Resources Office co-ordinator Wong Chi Hong told Macau Business illegal importation practices will not be tolerated: “The Human Resources Office and the Labor Affairs Bureau will strengthen inspections of establishments, before and after allowing the importation of workers,” he said. At the same time, there will be a revision of the way applications are handled. Current regime Wong says the recruitment of non-resident workers is designed to complement the local labour supply and is only allowed when positions can’t be filled locally. When assessing applications, the volume of production of the requesting company, as well as the relative importance of the productive unit within its sector, and importance of the business to society’s overall economic goals, are also taken into account. For non-specialised professionals, Wong says, apart from the availability of local workers, the government also looks at the functions of the workers companies intend to hire, as well as their usefulness in the training of local workers. Apart from these criteria, officials also take into account economic and social conditions, as well as the demands of the local employment market. “Only after this analysis, does the decision regarding the import of labour take place,” Wong says. Faulty system Sunkoshi-International IHR employment agency manager, José Carlos Mesquita, says problems exist because of inflexibility in the law. For example, even today, the blue card quota defines where a worker must perform his job: “I remember a case where factories had a quota on the fourth floor, so they could not use the worker on the third floor,” says Mesquita, adding another example of the boss of a babysitter who was fined because she was taking the child to school. According to Mesquita, this lack of accuracy in the law means some people still request many more people than they need and these workers end up working for other people. This, he says, is the main illegal scheme being used. Another problem with the legislation is the time required to apply for and renew blue cards – the red tape. “This opens up many temptations to resort to illegal acts. The government should take care of the needs of the companies. Sometimes, it takes three or four months to renew the blue cards of workers,” says Mesquita. New mechanism He adds that a new mechanism should be created that is faster and more simple and straightforward.. The manager also believes the quota regime should be applied differently. “I think it would be more fair to have one ratio between local and foreign workers – something like, you have ten workers and two/three/four/five foreign workers – because, in Macau, some companies have more foreign workers than locals,” he says. The current system enables some companies to have several foreign workers, while others have only two. “If they have a real system, then I know, right from the beginning, what I need to do to fulfill the conditions,” Mesquita says, adding that this would end confusion. “The employment business is murky. The big cake is when you recruit management staff overseas, but the overseas companies manage this. The second big piece of the cake is when big casinos recruit middle management, but we – the local companies – don’t touch it, because the operators go directly to the Philippines or Thailand. “The big business is out of your control. What you can do is small business, which needs a lot of work and is not well paid,” Mesquita concludes. Yes to “Macau first” Director of Macau HR, Mark Hammons, is more cautious: “The ‘Macau First’ policy is wise as long as it recognises both the value that foreign talent can bring, as well as the value that they can leave behind,” he says, referring to the role foreigners perform in training locals. Hammons believes top local talent exists, but takes a lot of effort to find. “The top brands with the most sophisticated recruiting campaigns can find the local talent they need, but smaller companies or those that are less diligent in their recruitment efforts often have difficulties,” he says. Sometimes, one hears about schemes in which companies artificially manipulate the ratio of local to foreign workers. In Hammons’ opinion however, as the director of one of the biggest employment companies in Macau, these illegal approaches are unnecessary and counter-productive, as monitoring systems are constantly being refined to catch and punish cheaters. Given the ‘Macau First’ policy, Hammons believes the key to getting a foreign worker is to show how he or she will really make a unique contribution — not only to the individual business but to the long-term growth and development of Macau as a whole. That is why professionals who can play a training role and help develop local staff are especially valuable. Long term view Nevertheless, although he understands the goal behind the current restrictive government policies, Hammons believes the executive could benefit from taking a long term view in the formation of its foreign labour policies, allowing a temporary increase in foreigner workers to help ease this transition, and then reducing quotas again later. The new legislation on the recruitment of non-resident workers has just come into force, with new sanctions and stronger punishments for those who commit infractions or crimes related to the import of labour. Foreign labour in Macau could be heading for more grim times.