Light penalty ‘encourages’ companies to fire locals over expatriates

Friday, January 9, 2009
Issue 580, page 5
Word count: 628
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Chief of the Macau General Union of Construction Industry said yesterday the current regulation in Macau could not effectively ensure local workers to enjoy prior employment rights over imported labourers.

According to Cheong Man Fung, the president of the general union, some 40 plumbers and electricians, all Macau residents, from a “large-scale private construction site in Taipa” received a notice on Wednesday that they would no longer need to go to work starting yesterday, without any reasons given.

Their work identification passes were also withdrawn on the same day after having finished their work, Cheong said.

However, as the sacked workers alleged that other imported workers were retained to continue working at the site, the general union led them to complain to the Labour Affairs Bureau (DSAL) yesterday morning.

After negotiating with the contractors and sub-contractors and with the assistance of the labour department during the meeting, Cheong said the company lastly agreed to withdraw their decision and let the affected local workers resume their jobs immediately starting today.

The construction company also promised to pay the workers their wages for yesterday despite them not having gone to work, Cheong added.

The president said both his general union and the 40 workers were “satisfied” with the result, adding the contractors had also committed that they would first lay off non local employees in the future.

At the same time, the company requested the general union not to reveal their details to the media.

Although the construction company said they were willing to compensate the workers when handing out the dismissal notices, Cheong said the main problem was about the company not complying with the regulation to secure local workers’ prior employment rights.

However, Cheong said the current regulation “barely gives any penalties” to employers as long as they could “correct their unlawful doings immediately”.

“So the cost they have to bear for sacking local workers over non locals is very low,” Cheong added.

Ella Lee, the supervisor of the rights and interest division from the Macau Federation of Trade Unions, also said in the press conference that the case showed that employers’ awareness to ensure local workers’ prior employment rights was “not strong enough”.

The labour department had always been emphasising that they were “very concerned” about such irregular situation in Macau, but the general union was not very convinced about the government’s determination.

“We know of some local construction sites where only a very small number of local workers are employed, so how can we convince our members that the government is actually doing something?” Cheong said.

“The government has the authority and responsibility to minimise the impacts to local employees caused by the current recession. We hope they can put in the biggest efforts both verbally and physically,” he added.

Secretary for Economy and Finance, Francis Tam Pak Yuen, in October last year announced that no more construction workers would be imported into Macau.

Yet the move could not fully erase the general union’s worry as Cheong said a formal deportation system for imported workers had still not been introduced.

According to Lee, the deportation of the 9,000 imported construction workers from The Venetian Macao’s Parcels 5 and 6 expansions were only “a result of the company voluntarily letting the workers go”.

“The government has to review Macau’s latest human resources demands and whether the already approved imported workers quotas to companies are already above the limit, they should then take the initiative and cut the numbers accordingly,” Lee said.

Amid the global economic downturn, Lee said Macau’s manufacturing, construction and gaming industries had been affected “foremost and most severely”.

Cheong said the general union hoped that both employers and employees could help each other in order to overcome the hardships and maintain harmony in society.

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