Unemployment rate raises unions’ concern

Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Issue 692, Page 1 & 3
Word count: 787
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The unemployment rate of local residents climbed to 4.8 percent in the first quarter of this year, representing an increase of 0.8 percentage point over the fourth quarter of 2008.

The labour force participation rate among local residents also dropped by 0.2 percentage point to 67 percent, the Statistics and Census Service announced yesterday.

In addition, the overall unemployment rate including non-local residents and under-employment rate was respectively 3.8 and 1.8 percent, up by 0.9 and 0.3 percentage point when comparing to the same quarter of 2008.

The Macau Federation of Trade Unions (FAOM) and the Macao Construction Industry General Union yesterday both voiced concern towards the findings, and warned that the situation could be deteriorated if the SAR government does not introduce tougher penalties for the use of illegal workers and accelerate the launch of public construction projects.

Speaking to the Macau Daily Times on the phone, FAOM chairman Chan Kam Meng said the unemployment figures were not a big surprise in face of the global financial crisis, but he expected that more local workers might lose their jobs until measures are being introduced by the government.

The FAOM last month proposed the “on-the-job training program” to the chief executive, which is currently being studied by the government.

Chan said local companies which are using a relatively large number of imported workers will be the targets of the program.

“With the simultaneous cooperation of the government to cut imported labour quotas, local workers will work and receive training at the same time, so that they can substitute some of their imported co-workers once the training is completed,” he said.

Also, the FAOM chairman said another way to ease unemployment in the territory is to launch public construction projects as early as possible.

However, he pointed out that those public construction projects would only be effective to push up employment rate if illegal workers are being eliminated.

And he said that only by introducing jail sentences to the use of illegal workers shall the problem be solved.

Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah at the Legislative Assembly last month had mentioned the proposal to first enact the part concerning illegal employment in the imported labour bill.

Chan said the FAOM welcomes the suggestion, as the current law of Macau is “lagging behind”.

“Hong Kong doesn’t have a serious illegal worker problem as employers have to be jailed for years once convicted and fines are heavy,” he added.

On the other hand, Macao Construction Industry General Union president Cheong Man Fung also agreed that in order to truly improve the unemployment situation in Macau, the launch of public construction projects, reduction of non-local labour and elimination of illegal workers will be the key.

“Illegal employment is a very complicated issue. It is not a problem of whether the government has put enough efforts to combat illegal workers, but is about the shortcoming of the law,” Cheong told the MDTimes yesterday.

According to the current law, Cheong said employers could easily get away from being jailed and in most cases will only be fined.

He also said that illegal workers no longer need to pay the fines once they are deported.

“We support to hand out an immediate jail sentence for any people [usually sub-contractors] who directly hire illegal workers.

“As for other indirect employers such as main contractors, we think that they must have to bear the responsibility for having a poor management at the construction site, but their penalties could be left for the court to decide,” Cheong said.

Although it seems that the use of illegal workers is very hard to tackle, the president still urges the authorities to keep conducting frequent police raids at both public and private construction sites.

“That’s the only thing the government can keep doing when the law is still deficient, even though such kind of operations may not be the most effective means to combat illegal workers,” Cheong added.

He said that his general union would prefer to have the whole imported labour bill enacted at the same time, as it will allow the authorities to “execute the law more comprehensively”.

However, since the current term of the Legislative Assembly is drawing closer to the end in September, Cheong said he will accept the chief executive’s suggestion to first enact the part in relations to illegal employment in the imported labour bill.

After a number of large-scale private construction projects showed signs of slow down or have been suspended recently, the president admitted that the industry is worried about the employment situation in the second half of this year.

Hence, he called on the government to skip some “unnecessary administrative procedures” and implement public construction projects as soon as possible.

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