Special Report – Labour demands

FTU affiliated Lawmaker Ella Lei has used her voice to call for more local workers in the LRT system. Secretary Rosário answers, but the pandemic is to blame.

MB November 2021 Special Report | LRT, the unloved

In July 2020 one of the trains in service on the Taipa Line broke down. The situation was resolved shortly thereafter, but the Government’s explanation made it possible to make a broader case out of the incident: the local LRT system was purchased from a Japanese supplier, and, because of the pandemic, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engineering technicians could not travel to Macau to make the necessary repairs. Furthermore, the managing company was already aware of the problem but in this specific context could do little to address it.

Up to that point, the issue of training local technicians had scarcely been explored, but from then on it became a hot topic, namely in the Legislative Assembly, where one of its members has stood out: for the last two years, Union for Development (UPD) deputy Ella Lei has carried the banner calling for employment of local specialized staff by the company that manages the LRT (MTR Macau).

Lawmaker Lei has made several interpellations to the government advocating for “the formation of a local professional team and the participation of local technicians in the functioning of the LRT.”

The deputy, who has ties to the Macau Federation of Trade Unions, believes “the formation of a team of local personnel not only offers more employment opportunities and space for development to residents, but also ensures the stability of services.”

According to Ms Lei, “Non-resident workers can, at any time, choose to leave Macau, because of the employment policy and wage conditions offered, and they do not always stay in Macau when economic crises arise,” adding, therefore, that “bringing non-resident workers in to take over the technical positions does not favour the stability of the services.”

“The incident [of July 2020] shows the importance of forming, as soon as possible, a local technical team,” Lei concludes.

The Government has responded to all this as follows: on the one hand, all Macao Light Rapid Transit Corporation (MLM) workers are local residents. On the other, MTR, which manages the project on a daily basis, “has as a priority the hiring of local labour and the implementation of a plan in which local workers occupy positions in the operating company’s staff.”

More than 80 per cent of MTR workers are local. The remaining percentage is occupied “by non-resident workers who perform nuclear and leadership functions in technical-professional areas, such as operation, management, and repair, whose main function is to maintain the smooth operation of the Taipa Line and transmit professional knowledge and experience to local workers.” When operations started, this percentage was only 60 per cent, leading Secretary Rosário to cite the increase over the two-year period as a very positive result. “We are doing this step by step. We are following this path and reducing the number of non-resident workers, replacing them with local workers as much as possible,” he said.

The government also stresses that MTR (Macau) “has provided training to workers in different jobs, including operation and repair, as well as treatment procedures and tests to respond to unforeseen situations, with a view to allowing them to master knowledge and accumulate experiences” and that over these two years, close to 100 local workers have left the company of their own volition.

The issue though, says Deputy Lei, is different: there has been “unfair treatment” of LRT local workers, both in terms of wages and career advancement, seen in the fact that non-resident workers undercut local labour by demanding less pay and fewer benefits, “thus forcing local residents to leave”. The Assembly Member adds, “There may be several reasons for the departure of employees, but there is still a need to monitor whether there are problems related to the operation and management of subcontracted service companies.”

The Government says it has not received complaints of discrimination against residents, rejecting the concerns raised by Ella Lei.

“The Labour Affairs Bureau (DSAL) has so far not received any complaints against MTR (Macau) about differences in treatment between local workers and non-resident workers. Between 2019 and 2020, DSAL did not receive any complaints regarding violation by the light rail company of ‘different pay for equal work’ and ‘prevention of the promotion of resident workers’.”