Long term planning needed to address future shortage of non-skilled local manpower – Labour advisor

The Macau government needs to have a long term strategy to develop local human resources and allow more non-resident quotas as available local manpower for non-skilled positions is reduced, according to an employment and immigration law specialist.

Speaking today in a seminar organised by the France Macau Chamber of Commerce on the local labour law and regulations, law firm MdME Lawyers professional, Helena Kok, noted that as the local working population becomes increasingly qualified and more demanding over job positions, it will become harder and harder to fill up necessary certain positions without requiring overseas labour.

“Local labour policies lack long term planning, all those we’re seeing are very short term […] For example croupiers and drivers, two protected job positions. But it has been 20 years since the gaming market opened […] croupiers found this good job that could provide their children with university education. Children in this generation will not want to be croupiers,” the lawyer stated.

“So if we promote all these croupiers to pit managers who will be the croupiers? What is the long term plan for 10 to 20 years?”

The lawyer also noted the same plan existed to positions like security personnel in the city were occupied by locals previously employed in the textile industry when they were 40 to 50 years of age.

“So what is the plan? Will authorities still limit the importing of non-resident labour for security? These are foreseeable issues, just like with drivers. Will their children want to be drivers? It’s good to have policies that protect locals, but we need to look at macro perspective for a long term sustainable term plan for the labour market coupled with micro policies to address more immediate needs”

As of the end of the second quarter of this year, about 52 per cent of the total 412,000 active population was local, with the remaining 46 per cent comprised of non-resident, non-skilled, and skilled workers, plus domestic workers.

The percentage of locals in the local employed population increased from 49 per cent by the end of last year as the pandemic impact in the economy led to a drop of local non-resident workers.

According to data provided during the presentation, the number of non-resident labour quotas submitted by local employers has increased considerably during the Covid-19 pandemic period, especially for non-skilled labour.

A total of 21,985 applications for labour quotas were submitted during the second quarter of this year, when compared to the end of last year when 13,731 applications were submitted to the Labour Affairs Bureau (DSAL), but the approval rate has gone down from 73 to 68 per cent.

A total of 20,611 applications for non-skilled labour quotas were submitted by June-end,  of which 67 per cent were approved, while of the 813 applications for skilled workers, 92 per cent were approved.

The large increase in non-skilled applications, was mainly due to a considerable rise in applications for construction, hospitality, F&B, real estate, and commerce sectors by the second quarter when compared to last year.

“This shows us we need more qualified non-locals, we don’t have them and the government knows it. […] Without Covid-19, people were applying less, but now, unexpectedly, we have more people applying for labour quotas,” Ms. Kok stated.

However, the lawyer also noted that in Macau there is also a lack of available local manpower for 3D jobs – “dirty, difficult, and dangerous” – and advised local authorities to be less “principle oriented” in protecting local workers and address the employers needs in a more flexible and practical way.

“The government has a tough job since it’s impossible to please everybody. About 90 per cent of local companies are SMEs and the big corporations are the gaming concessionaires. How can you implement labour rights that are accepted by the general employers? It’s impossible. Labour policymaking is a tough mission,” she added.

“But [authorities] need to remember something; social harmony is not the means but the outcome […] and can only be achieved by generally accepted policies”

The lawyer also noted that, although that while labour legislation defined that ‘suitable local workers’ should be prioritised over employing non-residents when trying to fill up a job position, what constituted ‘suitable’ was many times a complex ara for employers to discern

In the end, the labour law expert expressed that excessive protection of local workers could hamper their own competitiveness and value as it lowered the standards to their employability to basically being a Macau ID holder