Macao's casino boom awaits intitial construction - Sunday 12th of June 2005

The rush to cement new structures by hoteliers and casino operators has been making Macao "a city of dreams" for international construction labor forces. MGM Mirage, a US-based hotel and casino giant, broke its first ground last week to build a 975-million-US-dollar casino resort in Macao, branded MGM Grand Macau. Las Vegas Sands, another world gaming icon, launched the 240-million-US dollar Sands Macao in May 2004 and is expected to add a 345-million-US-dollar wing to the old body. These are not the only illustration of the casino boom in the Macao Special Administrative Region, the only territory within China where casino gambling is legitimate. Statistics recently issued by Macao's Statistics and Census Service showed that in the first quarter this year, the number of new construction firms flooding into the gaming sector tripled to 134 from a year ago.

Construction projects consumed over 115,000 tons of cement in the quarter, twice as much as in the same period of 2004. Local labor forces are hardly well prepared for the building prosperity, as the majority of the region's 18,000 construction workers have already been engaged. Projects under construction, however, are likely to require a further 50,000 workers over the next three to five years. The region, with only 460,000 permanent residents, thus needs international construction crews to aid its building boom, local economic analysts said. And the city has already grown to a charming destination for outside labor forces. Salaries in the region's construction sector are sky-rocketing, as scaffolders and crane operators saw their wages increase year-on-year in the first quarter by 66 percent and 41 percent respectively, according to official figures. To the workers in the neighboring Hong Kong for instance, where many construction businesses barely survived the worst past five years the industry has seen in decades, Macao's building prospects promise a windfall for them.

To Macao authorities, however, there is a balance-keeping game to play -- embracing the needed helping hands and protecting benefits of local labor forces. Fearing an influx of cheap labor, the Macao government has set a minimum wage for imported construction workers at 450 patacas (56 US dollars) per day, slightly higher than the local average of 425 patacas (53 US dollars). Local contractors, moreover, are requested to hire a certain percentage of local workers before being offered an import quota, which needs a personal nod from Francis Tam, Macao's financial secretary. There are many things for the imported labor forces to be concerned about as well. Occasional on-duty injury and death are part of the life in the construction industry.

Macao's labor law demands contractors to purchase insurance for all employees while the standards are lower compared with those in Hong Kong. In the event of death, for instance, a Hong Kong policy pays a minimum of 1.764 million HK dollars (220,500 US dollars), while in Macao it is 400,000 HK dollars (50,000 US dollars). For world gaming tycoons, there is one sure bet in Macao -- build the casinos and gamblers will come; for outside construction workers, there is also one sure bet -- build the casinos and we will be needed. Like it or not.

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