(Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu)

Non-resident workers travel restriction adding to construction sector Covid-19 woes – Industry rep

The Vice-President of the Macau Construction Association, Harry Lai Meng San, told Macau News Agency (MNA) that the sector is deeply concerned over the potential cost of the decision by local authorities to impose a 14-day quarantine on any non-resident work permit holder coming from Mainland China.

Local authorities announced yesterday that in order to prevent the transmission of Covid-19, starting from midnight of February 20 all non-resident ‘blue card’ workers wishing to enter Macau SAR and who have visited Mainland China in the 14 days prior to their entry will need to undergo medical observation for 14 days in Zhuhai.

The Macau government stated that it had informed local companies about the measures in advance, suggesting employers should look to provide non-resident employees with accommodation so they do not have to leave the city.

However, the construction sector expressed that finding accommodation for such a large number of workers is already considerably difficult, and with no proposed deadline for the end of this policy, companies are in the dark on how long they will have to provide such accommodation.

“We are all struggling to find [accommodation] for workers […] it’s very challenging. For management level, we might arrange for them to stay in a hotel, but we don’t know how long this thing is going to last […] If we find some apartment or hotel I will be asked how long we will lease it, but we don’t know,” the sector representative told MNA.

According to information from the Labour Affairs Bureau, as of December 2019 there were 29,388 construction workers in Macau, with 94.5 per cent being from Mainland China.

Most locally employed workers returned to their respective hometowns for the Chinese New Year, however as the novel coronavirus outbreak evolved, many found themselves unable to return to Macau.

Lai noted that only about 40 per cent of the Chinese workers employed in his company, Lai Si Group, were currently in Macau.

A large percentage of Chinese workers in the construction sector do not reside in Macau and regularly cross the border with Zhuhai, but with the new measures, if any of them were to leave the city he would be mandated to undergo a quarantine and obtain a health certificate assuring he is not infected, causing the industry to scramble to find a way for them to be able to remain in the city and continue work.

“Another issue is, who will manage the cost? If I have to arrange accommodation for the workers to stay in Macau I have to spend extra money and resources. The government tells you to do it but they do not say anything about this matter. The industry is already in a difficult situation and now they throw this on top,” Lai noted.

Although no official order has been issued by the local government for construction projects in the city to stop due the epidemic, health risk concerns and the lack of manpower had already caused several projects to halt progress or advance at a slower pace.

The Macau Construction Association Vice-President noted that in the weekly meetings held by the association, about half of the members have requested government representatives for an official order suspending construction works since some integrated resort projects have continued despite the crisis.

“In Macau, most of the casino construction sites are still open and going on. The govenrment has even pushed for it. However, they are still at risk and we tried to talk to the govenrment and asked if they could halt all construction works. It would solve some of the issues between employers and employees,” he added.

According to Lai, there had been some discussions with government representatives about this possible measure, but the exact details were unknown until yesterday, with only “gossip and rumours” circulating between the sector.

The construction sector representative even pointed out that he believes the next measure by authorities will be to demand quarantine also for Macau residents coming from Mainland China.

Yesterday local authorities expressed that this possibility was on the table, but with Secretary for Administration and Justice André Cheong Weng Chon underlining that the government also needed to assure the freedom of movement of local residents.