By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
The Macau Federation of Trade Unions (FAOM) yesterday sent an ultimatum to the government over an independent law against illegal labour, warning that local workers could not tolerate the problem any longer.
The workers’ union also released findings of a survey regarding local residents’ opinions on illegal workers. The results will be compiled in a report and submitted to the chief executive.
Vice-president of FAOM cum lawmaker Kwan Tsui Hang said in the press conference that if the government “remains weak and powerless” in the legislation concerning illegal workers, the lawmakers from the labour sector may exercise their power to propose their own bill to the Legislative Assembly for approval.
“Our patience is already in the final stage and if the government still shows no action, we’re mulling drafting the law ourselves and then submit it to the legislature,” Kwan said.
According to FAOM chairman Chiang Chong Sek, although the current laws state that employers of illegal workers could be sentenced to jail, “it is difficult to prove the labour relationship and therefore most of the time the employers were only put on probation”.
The construction industry, Chiang said, is where the problem is most prominent because of the existent subcontracting system that makes it almost impossible to find out who hired the illegal workers.
In addition, Chiang also strongly urged the government to stipulate that main contractors have to bear the legal responsibility when illegal workers are caught in their construction sites, even when they were hired by one of the sub-contractors.
Kwan believes this is the only way to solve the problem from the root.
DSAL director Shuen Ka Hung told reporters recently that the government did not yet have plans to re-propose the draft law in the near future, following the boycott of the public consultation by local building contractor industry some years ago, as a means to express their opposition to the bill.
“Does it mean that as long as the industry opposes the law the government doesn’t have the responsibility to enact it? The government ought to have its own stance on the issue,” Kwan stressed.
On the other hand, the FAOM interviewed 624 local residents between April 20 and June 15 this year about their views on illegal labour in Macau.
Of them, over 99 percent (or 618) said they believed there were people working illegally in Macau and estimated that most of them were from mainland China.
More than half of the respondents also deemed that the situation in the territory was “serious”, and some 64 percent singled out the cheap labour cost as the major driving force of the problem.
However, the survey also found that more than 96 percent of the respondents had never reported illegal workers to the authority, mainly because they believed that “it was impossible to prove the labourers’ identities”, that “reporting would be useless”, and “they had no idea where to report”.
Chiang said it is necessary for the government to regain local people’s confidence in combating illegal work, by reviewing the current reporting system that requires the authority to record the personal data of the “whistleblowers” and also establishing a rewards mechanism.