Chan Kam Meng: Workers still disadvantaged

Thursday, July 8, 2010
Issue 1057, Page 2 & 3
Word count: 1645
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The Macau Federation of Trade Unions (FAOM) entered its 60th year of establishment in January this year. During the past six decades, the federation, which is regarded as one of the most important non-governmental organisations in Macau, has been dedicated to one goal – safeguarding local workers’ rights and interests.

In recent years, FAOM has been advocating for the enactment of a Union Law in the territory and has supported the bill that was proposed by a lawmaker. Although it has been turned down twice, FAOM president Chan Kam Meng assured the Macau Daily Times that they will not give up, and believe that the demand will be fulfilled someday.

He stressed that there will be more advantages than disadvantages if a Union Law was introduced, but society has still not yet reached a consensus.

Aside from working towards a Union Law, FAOM also believes that equipping workers with multi-vocational skills is necessary in a contemporary society. Chan Kam Meng explained how the federation’s service content has evolved in response to the dramatic changes in Macau’s society and economy over the years.

Reporter: Have local workers’ awareness of safeguarding their rights and interests increased over the past years?

Chan Kam Meng: Apart from workers’ own responsibility, workers’ associations have to promote the message to the public and the Government need to help them understand labour related laws and regulations so that they know what their rights and obligations are, in order to better protect themselves. The three sides need to continue to work hard in order to achieve the goal.

Of course, sometimes the workers don’t want to make any complaints as they’re afraid that they’ll be fired. But they can seek assistance from workers’ associations or the Labour Affairs Bureau so that their rights and interests will not be jeopardised.

Nevertheless, local workers’ awareness of safeguarding their rights and interests has increased quite a lot in recent years. They will come forward to ask for help or speak up in society. It’s a good phenomenon.

But workers are in a disadvantaged position and if they don’t unite themselves and refuse to talk, help from any workers’ associations will be meaningless and eventually a labour dispute cannot be resolved.

R: I know that your federation has been pressing for a Union Law and supported the proposal that was discussed in the Legislative Assembly. Why is it so important?

Mr Chan: At present, FAOM is only a non-governmental organisation and not a labour union in legal terms. We still have to continue to work towards this goal.

Overall speaking, such law will give more advantages than disadvantages to society since labour disputes can be solved through negotiations rather than radical behaviours. Although some lawmakers did not support and have banned the proposal twice, we’re confident that Macau will have a Union Law eventually in the future, because it’s a global trend.

Workers are definitely in a disadvantaged position even when this law is in place, but their negotiation power will then grow stronger.

R: Do local workers generally have the motivation to pick up their school bags again and to upgrade themselves?

Mr Chan: Looking at the statistics from our vocational training centre, the waiting lists for different courses are always very long. We have plans to expand our training venues in order to provide more learning opportunities for more workers.

The mid-level management courses held in collaboration with the University of Macau received a very strong feedback and around 900 people applied for it.

It all proved that our workers do have the motivation but we need to provide them with more platforms and encouragement.

Low qualifications mean low competitiveness, and workers must have to first understand this theory so that they can raise their capabilities. Even in the construction industry the level of skill also keeps advancing. When they are skilled they will have high competitiveness and the chances of being unable to find a job will be minimised.

R: The latest official statistics showed that the unemployment rate in Macau was 2.9 percent. Could the figure reflect the reality?

Mr Chan: This figure mainly reflected the situation of the construction industry, which is suffering the most at the moment.

The problem here is that the implementation progress of construction projects is very slow. Regardless of private or public works, the approval process takes a long time to complete and therefore affects the construction industry.

The global financial crisis in 2008 had also slowed down or even halted some major construction projects, which further deteriorated the unemployment situation.

The Government has the responsibility to balance the number of private and public construction projects. When the private market is experiencing bad times, the Government should accelerate the progress to launch more public projects in order to compensate for the losses in the private construction sector. This is a very simple theory. If the Government could do well in this aspect, I believe the employment pressure wouldn’t be that strong.

It won’t be a big problem if the unemployment rate can evenly reflect the situations of all the industries, or otherwise it will be dangerous to see unemployment concentrated in one single industry.

R: The low execution rate of public investment expenditure in recent years is to blame?

Mr Chan: [The execution rate was] very very low. The Government has to come up with a solution to cut down the time needed to launch public construction projects.

Since the resources have already been approved and the money is there, why can’t the related department speed up the process?

R: We see unemployed people but we also see a lot of companies fail to find someone to fill up the posts. Why is it like that?

Mr Chan: As a workers’ association, we always oppose small and medium enterprises hiring imported workers. But at the same time they have to offer reasonable salaries for local workers. The laws say that companies need to first hire local people and only after they try and fail we won’t say no to the recruitment of non-local labour.

R: In recent years we’ve seen the formation of a lot of small workers’ associations that are active in voicing their demands. Is it a positive phenomenon?

Mr Chan: It’s a good thing for workers to have more associations fighting for their rights and interests. But it has to be done rationally and legally so that society can remain stable and thus the economy can be progressed.

As long as these workers’ associations are able to protect employees in a peaceful way, I believe society must support them. In contrast, using radical means will influence the social conditions and harm our economy.

R: In what ways has the role of the Macau Federation of Trade Unions changed since it was founded in 1950 in order to adapt to the social and economic environment?

Mr Chan: FAOM was established on January 12, 1950 and formed by 12 grassroots trade unions aiming to unite the workers and protect their rights and interests. And now, 60 years have passed and we have 69 affiliated associations including two honorary members.

Before the 1980s, labour related laws and regulations were not very common and mostly FAOM helped by engaging in negotiations with employers.

After the 1980s, apart from fighting for the rights and interests in individual cases, FAOM started to look at the sources of the problems in order to enact legislation to increase protection for employees. Labour Relations Law and regulations concerning workplace safety and labour insurance system were then passed at the Legislative Assembly.

But these laws and regulations were written when Macau’s economy was still dominated by the manufacturing industry. With the gaming industry leading the economy nowadays, the legislation keeps being revised so as to better adapt to changes in the economy. The Imported Labour Law was also enacted last year in response to the economic development in Macau.

In the early days of the Macau handover when the economy was still in a poor condition, the employment situation of construction workers in particular was extremely bad. FAOM organised some workshops to teach culture, the situation of Macau and different industries. Through which nearly 6,000 workers received allowances to ease their living pressure.

R: What else can be done to help the unemployed workers?

Mr Chan: Safeguarding workers’ rights and interests is not only about drafting laws and negotiating with employers, it’s also about how to raise their vocational skills and competitiveness in the job market and therefore we have a vocational training centre and also a training centre for amateurs.

We also cooperated with the University of Macau in 2008 to launch training courses for casinos’ mid-level managerial personnel, which were very popular. We’ll continue the collaboration this year so that local people can learn about hotel resort, casino, human resources and retail management and afterwards have the qualifications to get promoted.

In the future we may also join hands with the Institute for Tourism Studies and different universities in the mainland to open professional management courses.

R: What are the plans of your federation for the future?

Mr Chan: In order to adapt to the position of Macau as a world leisure centre, it’s important for us to have quality human resources that can face not only Macau but also mainland China and the Pearl River Delta. Our horizons have to be broadened and cannot be limited to Macau. Society, including our association, has to put effort into facing these changes.

Macau’s economic structure is no longer the same as before and nowadays the service industry is the pillar and the gaming industry is the dominating force. These changes have at the same time changed our service content and thus we need to think more about how to implement the right services to casino employees, clerks and young people in an ever-changing society.

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