Indonesian workers ‘not clear’ about Imported Labour Law

Monday, April 19, 2010
Issue 990, Page 6
Word count: 847
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

PEDULI Buruh Migran Indonesia, an Indonesian migrant worker organisation in Macau, says its members have difficulty in understanding the Imported Labour Law and hopes that booklets explaining the main ideas of the law can be published preferably in their native language besides English.

President of the organisation, Cindry Purnasari, told reporters on the sidelines of the Imported Labour Law public explanatory session yesterday that her members feel “a lot of pressure” particularly because of the so-called six-month ban in the law, which will come into effect on April 26.

The ban prohibits migrant workers from changing jobs in Macau without justified reasons, or otherwise they are required to leave the territory for half a year before being issued a new work permit to work for another employer.

Purnasari said currently there are about 3,600 Indonesian workers in Macau and most of them are domestic helpers.

Despite the Labour Affairs Bureau (DSAL) has given the organisation English and Indonesian copies of the Imported Labour Law, Purnasari said the workers “don’t understand the law very well and still have many questions in mind because it is written very generally”.

“We want to know what time we [domestic helpers] should wake up and start working or when to have holidays. The law isn’t specific enough,” she told the MDTimes.

There should be a separate law for domestic helpers because of their “very different job nature and working environment”, she added.

Purnasari said the Indonesian workers hope that the SAR government can publish booklets respectively for employers and employees elaborating what rights and interests the law gives them.

“It’s hard to understand [the law] by reading one article by one article… In Hong Kong they have these booklets especially for employers and employees to help them comprehend the law better,” she said.

Despite most of the Indonesia workers can speak little Cantonese and also English, Purnasari explained that their English communication capability is very limited particularly concerning legal affairs.

Hence, she said such kind of booklets can make them be aware of what can or cannot be done when discussing contract terms with employers.

“Also in Hong Kong they have NGOs [non-government organisations for migrant workers]. But here we need to fight for ourselves,” she added.

On the other hand, Purnasari said the Imported Labour Law does not regulate local recruitment agencies enough.

Every time when a migrant worker successfully gets a job through a recruitment agency, he or she is required to pay the agency a fee worth three to 10 months of his or her salaries, according to Purnasari.

Full-time domestic helpers from Indonesia, she said, usually earn MOP2,500 a month.

Purnasari said she also needed to hand in three months of her salaries to the agency that helped her find a job in Macau.

“During that period we’re working for the agency but not our employers,” she added.

Despite the Imported Labour Law states that recruitment agencies are prohibited from charging fees to migrant workers, “in reality it’s not like that but we can’t prove it,” Purnasari told the MDTimes.

“If we don’t pay the agency, they will call our employers and tell them to fire us.

“We call this situation ‘modern slave’. I know a case that the worker never earned any money in two years because the agency told the employer to fire her after she paid the fee in full. But every time when she got a new job she had to pay the agency again,” Purnasari said.

Cecilia Ho Wing Yin, a lecturer of the Social Work Program at the Macao Polytechnic Institute who has been helping the domestic helpers in Macau, also told reporters that she hoped the DSAL could solve the translation problem in order to better promote the Imported Labour Law.

According to the latest statistics, at the end of January 2010 a total of 14,367 imported labours worked as domestic helpers in Macau. A majority of them came from the Philippines, followed by Vietnam.

Ho also said question and answer booklets about the law should be distributed at the airport and the Border Gate.

“No conflict should actually exist between local and non-local workers. If there are proper regulations we will be able to achieve a win-win situation,” she said.

As for the controversial six-month ban, Ho said “despite the government’s good intentions, it is going to weaken migrant workers’ bargaining power when combining with the reality.”

Director of the Labour Affairs Bureau, Shuen Ka Hung, said that the bureau is in talks with some countries’ consulates in Hong Kong and Macau in order to hold Imported Labour Law explanatory sessions in different foreign languages as soon as possible.

In regard to the alleged malpractice of recruitment agencies, Shuen urged the migrant workers to come forward and report to the bureau so that it can bring the agencies to justice.

“We understand their [domestic helpers] hardships and we want to help them. But they must have to first report to us no matter how hard it is, or otherwise we can’t do anything without any evidence or witnesses,” he said.

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