May Day opportunity for all to be heard

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Issue 1297, Page 3
Word count:863
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

This year’s Labour Day demonstrations were relatively peaceful, bereft of gun shots and water cannons. Protesters were not only restricted to the general workforce, but came from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of reasons for participating.

The Public Security Police (PSP) stated that eight protests took place on Sunday attracting around 2,300 people.

They gathered at different locations in Areia Preta, the Cultural Centre and the Ho-Yin Garden between 2pm and 3pm and followed the revised police routes to Government headquarters to submit petitions.

About 400 private school teachers marched to the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau (DSEJ) in silence representing their demands of a fair wage, a distinctive formation of a private school teacher graduated career system, education system reform, funding adjustments and stability within the teaching body.

The teachers are not pleased that the draft career scale system was not released to Macau’s private school teachers, and said they would like to establish a teacher’s union in the near future.

A handful of school social workers also joined the protest, saying that most of DSEJ’s funding covered school’s administrative costs and their wages were ‘less than half of public social workers’.

In addition, residents from NAPE and Ka-Ho staged separate rallies demanding a change to the light rail phase one route, an effective solution to the land ownership dispute and adverse impacts of fly ash landfill.

Ilha Verde neighbourhood residents requested more compensation for their demolished shacks, while the parents of adult mainland children also took to the streets.

Numerous grassroots worker’s unions demanded public housing, control over the property market, a minimum wage and tougher efforts against illegal labour.

“May Day protests have shifted from being an activity mainly to protect worker’s rights and interests to an opportunity for different Macau residents to express social problems,” Eilo Yu Wing Yat, a public administration professor of the University of Macau, told the Macau Daily Times yesterday.

“It’s an improvement because it shows that our society is diversified and has different needs and demands. But it also means that the government won’t be able to solve all the problems by just tackling labour issues,” he said.

Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On has recently announced the second round of cash handouts to local residents this year. While Yu believed that the measure had eased the public’s discontent to a certain extent, he said that its effectiveness at the political level will become increasingly less gradually.

“People have built resistance and started to feel numb [towards cash handouts]. They may now think that it’s proper for the government to handout money or otherwise radical reactions could be stimulated in society. Some youths also said the money wouldn’t stop them from taking to the streets,” he stressed.

‘White terror’

The Macau Journalists Association issued a statement yesterday which condemned the ‘Public Security Police’s unjustified and violent interference with media coverage’ during the May 1 protests.

The statement said that the PSP “infinitely expanded their police powers at the scene, recklessly drove reporters away, built a human wall, deliberately obstructed the media from reporting the arrest of a protester and even verbally intimidated reporters, using their fists and forcibly pulled reporters away from behind.”

The police had obviously gone beyond rationality of performing their duties, and had also gone against their previous claims to ‘respect’ and ‘protect’ journalist safety, the statement said.

The association stressed that it was a “severe interference” with freedom of the press, and questioned whether the police were aiming to create “white terror”.

However, the PSP defended their actions saying a large number of individuals and reporters rushed to the traffic lane outside of the demonstration area when the arrest took place. The police officers ‘repeatedly advised the crowd to leave the road’ with no effect so they adopted ‘appropriate measures’ to resume traffic flow.

The spokesman said the chairman of a grassroots workers union Vong Vai Man, parked a publicity mini-van in Avenida Dr. Stanley Ho during the rally, and after showing documents to police approving his position, he climbed to the top of the vehicle chanting slogans.

He stressed that the ‘prompt actions’ in response, were in line with the law and Vong was released on Sunday night charged with disobedience.

According to Eilo Yu, there was a ‘communication gap’ with the PSP and the media. “When police are maintaining public order and safety, they will usually neglect the needs of the media.”

The scholar pointed out that Macau’s government officials appeared to have a ‘weak sense’ of the importance of the prompt release of information.

“They still have the old mindset that once problems occur they need to deal with them first, while the public’s right to know is not put first,” he told the MDTimes.

An approved media coverage area had been previously promised, however none was put in place. Media were reportedly cordoned off by a human wall formed by police officers in certain situations.

“A media coverage area in a peaceful demonstration may be convenient to journalists, but if there is chaos such an area will become meaningless and will restrict journalists from getting close to the truth,” Yu said.

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