Government ‘must take its own stance’

Monday, May 16, 2011
Issue 1307, Page 5
Word count: 848
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The SAR Government has to be clear about the reasons for a minimum wage system and whether or not it is necessary for Macau, and also to stand firm on its position during the negotiations, stressed vice-chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions (FAOM), Ella Lei Cheng I.

Also being a member in the Standing Committee for the Coordination of Social Affairs, which is an advisory body currently discussing the minimum wage, Lei told the MDTimes that if the employers’ and employees’ representatives insist to get the biggest extent of benefits over labour issues, “cooperation won’t be able to establish between them”.

The standing committee is a three-party mechanism formed by members from the Government, employers and employees to mainly discuss labour issues and other economic-related policies.

“The employer and employee sides must have opposing views but each of us is able to fully express our own opinions in the meetings. As for how the policies are going to be implemented eventually will depend on what the Government’s stance is and discussions at the Legislative Assembly,” Lei said.

Therefore, she deemed that in the law- or policy-making process, the Government must have to uphold its own basic position such as why a minimum wage system needs to be introduced and whether or not it is determined to do it.

“We [employers’ and employees’ representatives] are just there responsible to give opinions [to the Government] about how the law could be done better,” she pointed out.

Director of the Labour Affairs Bureau, Shuen Ka Hung, confirmed to reporters recently that the bureau has no plans to reintroduce the draft law that would see the main contractors liable to legal responsibilities when illegal workers are caught in construction sites, despite they are not the direct employers.

“We [FAOM] are very disappointed about his statement. We didn’t see the Government was very proactive in working on a law to combat illegal workers,” Lei told the MDTimes.

“When the draft law was first launched in 2009, the developers collectively boycotted the proposal and left the public consultation in the middle of the event. The Government afterwards retreated […] due to resistance from the business sector,” she said.

“The Government failed to stand firm on its position when facing pressure,” she added.

Hong Kong ‘not the same’

The HKD28 minimum wage came into effect in the neighbouring Hong Kong SAR on May 1. Lei said she doesn’t agree that it would create pressure on the Macau Government when stipulating the level in the future.

“The situation in Macau is different as we tend to first implement the minimum wage in the building security and clearning services rather than a city-wide system,” she said.

Because of Hong Kong’s experience, Lei said the standing committee hopes that by launching the system in the two industries in the first stage, disputes can be minimised and the law-making process can be completed sooner.

These two industries are chosen since the Government’s outsourcing building security and cleaning services already adopted a minimum wage some years ago.

Lei said the employees’ representatives hope that by the end of this year, a general consensus can be obtained in the standing committee, for example concerning the rules and scope of implementation, a preliminary proposal of the minimum wage level, how to describe job posts, a review and penalty mechanism, which groups of workers may have exemptions and whether Macau should follow Hong Kong to stipulate the level only after the law is passed.

Yet, Lei pointed out that at this moment the employers’ representatives still insist that “it’s not a good timing to establish a minimum wage in Macau”.

The Government’s outsourcing building security and cleaning workers will soon have their salaries increased by nearly 10 percent from MOP 21 to MOP 23 per hour.

Lei doesn’t agree that the MOP 23 level would set a benchmark in future discussions on the broader minimum wage system, but pointed out that a salary review for the outsourcing workers should be conducted regulary.

“Increase is good but only by 10 percent is not high or enough,” she said.

All workers included

On the other hand, Lei believed that the minimum wage system should include imported labourers, which are expected to exceed 100,000 at the end of 2011 as disclosed by the Secretary for Economy and Finance last week.

Not only does the Labour Relations Law state that the salary of a job, no matter held by a local or a non-resident worker, needs to be the same, the move can avoid “an unfair employment environment” which will consequently “affect local people’s employment rights”, according to the FAOM vice-chairwoman.

“The minimum wage is to protect the very low income group and thus all labourers who work in Macau legally should be covered,” she said.

The Hong Kong Government has excluded its tens of thousands of domestic helpers from the protection, but a Filipino migrant workers union in the SAR disclosed to the MDTimes recently in Macau that the affected workers are going to appeal to a court in an attempt to overturn the decision.

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