More locals feel competition brought by imported workers

Monday, April 20, 2009
Issue 677, Page 1 & 2
Word count: 1016
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

A workers survey found that more local residents were worried the existence of imported labour would jeopardise their employment especially in the construction and manufacturing industries.

The Macao Federation of Trade Unions (FAOM) commissioned the Economic Sciences Association in September last year to investigate local workers’ latest working conditions in various industries, which was a continuation of the same survey conducted in 2004.

The 2008 survey received 12,774 valid responses from mainly FAOM and its affiliated associations’ members, with a majority of them being 36 to 45 years old.

Respondents came from a wide range of industries such as manufacturing, catering, finance, transportation, education, health and social services, gaming and tourism and also construction.

Of them, 46.5 percent possessed an education level only at junior high school, which showed no significant change from the 2004 survey.

According to author of the survey report and Economic Sciences Association vice chairman Joey Lao Chi-ngai at the press conference yesterday, most of the questionnaires were collected before mid-November last year, when impact of the global financial crisis just started to appear in Macau.

Thus, he pointed out that the findings of this investigation could not fully reflect to what extent local workers had been affected by the economic downturn, adding the “actual situation might be worse”.

Among the 12,774 respondents, about 75 percent said they were concerned about their job prospects, an increase from 69 percent in 2004.

In addition, those who expressed no concern also dropped by 4.6 percent to 25.9 percent at the end of 2008.

Lao said the figures were alarming, as they indicated that local workers’ employment confidence was already weak even before the financial crisis hit Macau.

The three main reasons that caused workers’ concern were “a poor industry prospect, their posts would be replaced by imported labour and the age [which may limit their advantages for the company]”

However, there were only about 37 percent of the respondents said that they were planning to take up training courses in the coming year.

The survey also questioned local workers’ viewpoints and opinions regarding imported labour.

About 78 percent of them deemed that the import of non local workers would influence employment opportunities and labour rights.

It was not only because of the lower wages, but imported workers were “usually young, have high education backgrounds and can speak multiple languages”, which could stimulate competition in the job market and minimise local employees’ promotion opportunities.

However, about 21 percent of the respondents disagreed, and said that “non local workers could benefit some industries that required massive human power and also help elevate competition”.

At the same time, the respondents criticised the inadequacies in the government’s imported labour policy.

They said that a mechanism that prescribed the prior employment of local workers and prevented locals’ jobs from being taken over by non locals should be introduced.

On the other hand, 47.5 percent of the respondents believed the problem of illegal workers in Macau was “very serious”, but a large number of them were not aware of the ways to report illegal employment.

The survey also showed that more than 60 percent of the respondents agreed that increasing jail sentences and fines would be an effective way to tackle illegal workers.

Setting up a special force to combat illegal employment was also proposed.

However, Lao said many of the local workers expressed that reinforcing police raids was not effective, as “in most cases the illegal workers would flee the scene before police arrived”.

Labour rights

The Economic Sciences Association vice chairman said workers were mostly concerned about salaries, working hours and resting time as reflected in the survey.

According to the respondents’ income distribution, most of them earned from 6,001 to 7,000 patacas a month, followed by 5,001 to 6,000 patacas, and 8,001 to 9,000 patacas.

Lao said locals’ salaries were increased compared to 2004, but added that it was just “nominal”.

“We also have to take into account the surge in inflation during the same period. The rise in income may not be able to set off that in the consumer price index,” he added.

Meanwhile, the investigation found that nearly 67 percent of the respondents did not receive a pay rise between 2007 and 2008, while 20 percent said there was an increase and 13 percent reported a reduction in salaries.

Among those who had their wages cut, the largest part were from the construction, transportation, manufacturing and the public utility industries such as water, electricity and telecommunications.

On the other hand, it was found that a significant number of the respondents were deprived of their workers interests.

About 34 percent reported to have worked more than eight hours a day, which constituted a violation to the labour law.

Of them, 5.1 percent or 634 respondents worked even 12 hours a day.

In addition, the number of paid leaves for the respondents mainly concentrated on one day per week and four days per month, which Lao said reflected that the workers’ resting time “merely met the minimum requirements of the labour law”.

However, the survey also showed that about 10 percent of the respondents whose basic rights were exploited in terms of paid leaves (or days off).

A string of suggestions were made to the SAR government in response to the findings.

Lao said one of the most important efforts is to strengthen the promotion of the labour law in order to let more workers be aware that their rights and interests have been damaged.

Only by doing this the workers will then come forward to the Labour Affairs Bureau or the unions for assistance, he added.

The Economic Sciences Association also urged for the establishment of a minimum wage standard and a comprehensive deportation system for imported labour, as well as to restrict excessive working hours and suspend the import of non local workers until the economy recovers from the recession.

Apart from increasing penalties for illegal employment and overstaying, the association suggested the introduction of an immigration data bank and a reward scheme for people who report the use of illegal workers in Macau.

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