An increase in the number of migrant workers in Macau last year is widely seen as having been necessary to cope with rapid economic growth. But lawmakers are divided on whether the expansion should be allowed to continue. The latest figures show that a further 39,411 non-resident workers entered Macau last year, up 42 per cent on 2004. The Labour Affairs Bureau published for the first time the number of external workers hired by each firm in Macau after being urged to do so by pro-democracy legislators. The manufacturing sector led with 14,334 registered workers. The gaming, cultural and recreational sectors combined had 5,968 non-resident workers, including 2,455 construction workers hired by the Venetian Macau resort. Legislator Lao Pun-lap, a senior economist, said many more external workers were needed to fill jobs created by the former Portuguese enclave's rapid development. 'Shortages have occurred in almost every sector,' he said. 'Now we have a gap of 20,000 to 30,000 workers. Even if the imported workforce grows at the current rate [of 40 per cent a year], we may still be short of workers in 2007.' But pro-democracy lawmaker Antonio Ng Kuok-cheong demanded that the government slow down the influx of workers and revise labour-import schemes. 'Strong GDP growth in 2004 [of 28.6 per cent] made it necessary to import large numbers of workers, but now the high-growth period has ended, with GDP growth rate falling below 8 per cent,' he said. Mr Ng argued that rapid expansion of labour imports had slowed improvements to local workers' pay and working conditions. 'The improvement of working conditions lags far behind economic growth,' he said, 'Average income stays low and unemployment has only gone down a little.' Mr Lao said Macau's unemployment rate of 4 per cent was very low despite structural unemployment unrelated to labour imports. 'We have structural unemployment of 10,000 people, most over 40, with low education. It is hard for them to find work anyway.' Mr Lao also said that a rise in average incomes of nearly 10 per cent showed that labour imports had not cut into local workers' pay.