It is certain that in 2018 Macau will see another attempt to pass a trade union law. Members of the Macau Federation of Trade Unions (FAOM) have already assured that they will propose it.
“If they do not, we will do it”, says deputy José Pereira Coutinho, who, since 2005, has already presented eight drafts on trade union law, collective bargaining and the right to strike. “The first time was in 2005, the year I was elected to the Legislative Assembly,” he recalls.
What is also certain is that this proposal, on the part of the FAOM or Pereira Coutinho, will be condemned by the majority of deputies. The degree of certainty is such that one can even anticipate the final result: 12 votes in favour and 15 against.
This was precisely the result of the vote held at the end of October, on the initiative of the deputy elected with the support of the Macau Civil Servants Association, one of the first voted in by the new Assembly elected in September.
“I presented immediately to find out the position of the new directly elected members and how the nominees would act. It has been proved that the nominees continue to be controlled by the government without any doubt and that it does not matter to anyone that businessmen have a trade union law in Macau,” explained Mr. Coutinho.
Example of same: 12-15 was also the vote last year, this time regarding the proposal of the FAOM, leading Coutinho to reaffirm that “the government is clearly controlled by the entrepreneurs who dominate the decision making of the school of the new Chief Executive by the end of 2019. The Electoral College is composed of 400 people from the sphere of the Commercial Association of Macau and AGOM, which of the 60 places controls 58.”
Does this mean Macau will never have a trade union law?
Only if one of two things happen: the composition of the Assembly changes, depending upon whether more members are directly elected, or if the government formalises the proposal.
“If the government presents, the probability of being approved will be greater in the domain of the government in the L.A.,” Coutinho has no doubt. What the government has said about this is that it is ‘studying’ [the situation]. “Since the handover, the government has been under pressure to adjust its policies to provide more protection of working class interests . . . [once] . . . the labour issue had begun to threaten political stability,” according to UMAC Professor Eilo Yu.
On the business side, the arguments range from “this is not the right time” – since 2005, there has never been a “right time” – and the real need to establish a trade union law, if one already existed, to protect the rights of employees.
And the fact that Fong Chi Keong, the most critical voice, has ceased to be a member, changes very little. It is true that we will not hear arguments such as “Since I was born until now, there has never been a trade union law,” “This law will ruin the whole of society because it will create a special social class” or “In almost every legislature, we receive a trade union law proposal. That means that such a law is not needed. Why do you insist?” but others will be present, such as Chan Chak Mo, deputy and General Director of the Future Bright Group, who in an interview last year with the Portuguese-language newspaper Hoje Macau stated:
“Being an entrepreneur, the Trade Union Law does not bring advantages to the economy, but it brings many advantages to the trade unions, especially since it gives them the right to collective bargaining and to strike without workers being dismissed” and “If there is a Trade Union Law, this does not mean that labour relations can be better because unions can strike at any time. Can you imagine? A casino going on strike; how can that be? It may scare [away] foreign investors.”
It is for reasons such as these that Macau-based scholar Eilo Yu states: “The making of labour policy demonstrates that the policy environment in which policy is being made [is] more complex and that there has been a decline in the government’s capacity to balance the interests of various forces.”
“The nominees continue to be controlled by the government without any doubt and that it does not matter to anyone that businessmen have a trade union law in Macau” (Pereira Coutinho)
Amendments to the law
Last year, the government announced it will propose seven amendments to the existing Trade Union Law in 2018.
Some of the changes limit the work period to 72 hours in every four weeks or set additional compensation for extraordinary work or on weekly rest days or mandatory holidays. It is also suggested that workers be entitled to sick leave and unpaid maternity leave, with basic remuneration included in weekly rest and compulsory holidays.
These and other amendments have already been criticised either by the FAOM, which considers them to be a step back in the protection of workers’ rights, and by José Pereira Coutinho, who told Macau Business: “Women continue to be exploited in the 56 days of leave; casinos workers continue to have no shift and night subsidies when all other professions have in Macau.”
Thus, “nothing relevant,” he laments.