The underworld of Macau’s human resources

The lack of human resources and the difficulties in recruiting qualified staff have long been divisive topics in Macau. While some would prefer stricter rules and quotas on any imported workers to protect the interests of local residents, others have been calling for more transparency in the system as well as a faster process for reviewing applications so local companies can remain competitive.

The topic has been repeatedly targeted by the lawmakers during sessions at the Legislative Assembly with the those representing the Macau workers’ organizations, namely the Macau Federation of Trade Unions, calling for the enforcement of more restrictions while those with connections to the business sector and small and medium-sized enterprises voicing opposition to restrictions and calling for a system that guarantees companies can recruit the staff they need to operate.

Last week, the Executive Council announced that a bill has been tabled that proposes amendments to several labor relations laws. Among the amendments is a ban on all non-residents seeking employment in Macau while holding a tourist visa.

The bill requires that all non- residents who wish to apply for any non-specialized or domestic work in the region must first obtain a permit through the relevant employer before receiving authorization to stay in the SAR.

In other words, the measure tries to obstruct the practice of directly job seeking; making arrangements between a worker and employer without going through an employment agency.


The proposal, which will empower employment agencies in the territory, has left many concerned, not least because of the poor reputation of some firms within the industry.

Strict rules over imported labor coupled with a high demand for staff at Macau’s gaming concessionaires has made recruitment a lucrative trade in Macau.

A former HR staff member at an integrated resort, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Times that human resources do not always manage their own recruitment, especially when it is done on a large-scale and from overseas.

“When you are recruiting a large number of people all at once, especially security and cleaning staff, there is no time to conduct any verifications individually [case-by-case] and personal interviews are not that individualized either,” she said. HR departments are usually left to handle the recruitment of local workers, while “the recruitment of overseas workers is a task mainly done by agencies.”


One non-resident worker (TNR), who works as a waitress at another integrated resort, explained the application process in an interview with the Times.

“To work here you need to pay a minimum of MOP20,000 but it depends on the job that you are taking,” she said, adding, “in my case I had to pay MOP21,000 to get this job as a waitress from which I earn MOP7,000 a month, so it’s like three months’ salary.”

As she explained to the Times, the ‘agency fee’ “needs to be all paid in advance and in cash. Before you get inside the company you need to pay the agency and even if there is some problem [at a later stage] this money isn’t returned to you.”

Asked whether she knows if her employer knows about the agency fee she had to pay, she said: “I can’t be sure about that but I think they need to have some communication otherwise they wouldn’t know when I’m coming to work or anything, because I never spoke with anyone from the casino [operator] before the day I came to work.”

She also told the Times that another pressing concern was that workers hired via this system hav  no almost no guarantees. “We are always afraid, as any small mistake [can mean] you get fired,” she said.

Speaking with other staff from the same company, she learned that people believe that there are “bad practices” between employment agencies and some human resources (HR) staff, especially in large enterprises.

For example, she said that a colleague had told her some HR staff would fire workers over the smallest offences in order to recruit their replacements, who would need to pay their own fee to the recruitment agency.

She said the tip-off had been a “friendly warning” from people working in the company for longer than herself, most of them local workers.


The measure to prevent tourists from job-seeking generated discussion online among TNRs, who expressed mixed-feelings about it. One social media user expressed approval of the new law, “to avoid TNR scams [experienced by] their fellow nationals [on alleged job referrals] when they come looking for work.”

However, others showed more skepticism. “If the law is approved how can employers find job seekers [namely for domestic work],” posed one netizen, with another asking, “Who will clean or take care of their kids?”

Questioned by the Times on the issue, a TNR from Indonesia said, “I don’t think it will affect the Indonesians as we [almost] always seek jobs through the [employment] agencies.”

“Most of the people when traveling abroad for work need to have already guarantees of a working contract and [at least part of the] formalities taken care of,” she added. “I think it would probably affect more the Filipinos as they have the culture of going door-to-door seeking for a job.”

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