‘Frightened and distressed’ Macau racing group demands compensation

Macau horse racing participants have made an impassioned plea to the city’s chief executive Ho Iat-seng, demanding they be provided with “reasonable compensation” for losing their livelihoods.

With racing in the city about to enter its final month, a group of “frightened and distressed” trainers, jockeys and stable staff have demanded their plight be taken seriously.

“We no longer have any demands or hopes that we can continue the horse racing business in Macau,” they wrote in a letter sent to Ho on Thursday. “We just sincerely implore the Macau government to take the Jockey Club’s closure seriously and lend a helping hand to each of us.

“We would like to ask the Macau government and the Macau Jockey Club [MJC], have they thought about the future livelihood of the Jockey Club workers? As the breadwinners of our families, where will we go after we lose our jobs?”

Last lap for Macau horse racing as authorities, company agree to end contract

The group claim they had no advance warning about last month’s announcement to abruptly end racing in Macau, saying the sport’s nearly 25-year contract extension in 2018 led them to believe they would have “a lifelong and reliable career”.

In the letter, they referenced comments MJC chairman Angela Leong On-kei made at the time over financial losses she said shareholders were “very happy with”.

In announcing the decision to end racing, the Macau Horse Race Company said it had experienced financial difficulties since its inception, with an accumulated deficit exceeding 2.5 billion patacas (US$310 million).

The letter questions why, despite reports suggesting the MJC and the government had been working on a mutual agreement to end racing since the middle of last year, staff were given just 11 weeks’ notice, as opposed to their counterparts in Singapore, who have been given more than a year to wind up operations.

“This is an extremely heavy blow to more than 500 employees and more than 500 families,” it reads. “In addition, the trainers continued to lobby the horse owners to invest huge amounts of money to purchase horses.

“Now [we are] suddenly closed down, which not only caused trouble and huge financial losses to the horse owners, but also seriously affected the integrity of trainers to owners.”

The group of trainers, jockeys and stable staff point to the specialised nature of their work as grounds for significant compensation, outlining March 10 as the date they expect to be notified of a “reasonable compensation amount”.

“Since we are a very special type of work and a high-risk job with high professional qualifications, the most basic thing is that we are not based on the maximum compensation for those with Macau ID cards,” the letter reads.

Taipa racecourse. Photo: Dickson Lee

“But what we know according to the so-called labour laws [is that] the maximum compensation amount for employees with Macau ID cards is $250,000 [patacas], while employees holding non-resident work permits will only receive three days’ salary compensation based on the average of the last three months.

“In addition, we have paid taxes in full every month for many years since we have worked in Macau, but we have never received any provident fund or retirement funds.”

In its January 15 announcement confirming the termination of racing, the government said the Macau Horse Race Company had pledged to handle labour rights and employee benefits issues in accordance with the law. According to Macau authorities, at that time the racing and betting operator had 570 employees.

No Hong Kong lifeline for Macau horses as owners seek clarity on rehoming plan

The letter follows similar rumblings from Macau’s horse owners, who are demanding better compensation for the rehoming of the jurisdiction’s more than 200 horses, especially those who are retiring.

Owners say they invested in new horses after being assured racing would continue, with the most recent shipment arriving in June last year, but in a recent letter to owners, the MJC declared “owners should have had a clear indication of the club’s financial position and conducted your own risk assessments before deciding to make any purchases or investments”.

The Macau Horse Owners Group is holding a press conference on Saturday to discuss “issues such as horse compensation”.

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