(Xinhua/Zhou Hua)

OPINION – Tightening the screws

In only a few weeks week we managed to see several blows to the gut of the local non-resident worker community.

From one side local authorities backtracked on the initially proposed consumer discount voucher scheme – which would cover every local resident – and presented a hybrid new plan including the previous consumer card scheme and some vouchers, but without including ‘blue cards’.

Although the proposal is still to be approved and finalised by the Legislative Assembly, Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lei Wai Nong, has assured the opinions of residents will be taken into consideration, which basically assures the measure will not include non-residents.

This time at least the local government can deflect some of the responsibility since public backlash ended up forcing its hand, but it is still baffling to see the disregard by authorities and residents alike to a community that has remained working in the city since the pandemic started, has obeyed all pandemic measures and greatly contributed for the SAR to continue operating as normal since this crisis started.

Such measures are especially harsh to non-mainland Chinese foreign workers, who are not even really allowed to cross the border to china without jumping several hoops or see their families without having to face lengthy quarantines that would likely cost them their job anyway.

After all, a foreign worker would gladly accept any consumer discount vouchers that were so strongly rejected by local residents who are even already entitled to an early distribution of the annual cash handout.

Many have been the first to be laid off when the pandemic first hit the local economy and now have to choose to either stay and burn to their meagre savings or leave since they are not even able to be rehired due to the new labour law.

Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng himself has revealed that there are currently 3,000 unemployed non-residents in the city, including 1,100 domestic workers, and in another blow to this community has expressed authorities are more focused on arranging flights for them to leave the city than try to find some compromise to the current labour regulations that would temporarily allow them to be rehired.

It is also interesting to suddenly see the same legislators who approved the current labour law last year without hesitation to suddenly urge local authorities to temporarily suspend such regulations, as businesses and families alike regularly complain of not being able to either find employees or a domestic helper.

It was good to see the CE show some openness for at least vaccinated domestic workers to be allowed in and maybe some family relatives of local non-resident workers out of humanitarian reasons, but such easing of restrictions still seems far away.

The fact that blue cards were allowed to receive a Covid-19 vaccine was also a generous measure that should be applauded, considering the soberness displayed by many residents when it comes to receiving a jab that is currently the only way out of this dire economic situation.

However, the situation of several non-resident workers remains dire as numbers for requests for food donations by local NGO’s has shot up.

It was also shocking to see authorities state they have no idea of the real extent of how many residents are under non-paid leave schemes and continue to point to unemployment statistics that do not show the whole picture.

However, the truth is that for many residents being under a no-paid leave scheme is currently better than nothing. Unless they suddenly decide to work as domestic helpers or construction workers, then maybe the situation would be quickly resolved.

So as visitor numbers slowly go up, the main question now is for how long will Macau have to tighten its belt until returning to the same pre-pandemic levels, if it ever will.

Until then the local authorities and the local community will have to think long and hard if the previous employment situation can be recovered.

Because if it can’t, local resident expectations for job stability and wages will maybe have to be seriously reassessed.

[MNA Editor-in-Chief]