It was sad to see the series of clarifications the Health Bureau and the Office of the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture issued last week apropos the new regulations on childbirth costs being put in place at the local public hospital.
After the government officially announced that the prices for child birth delivery for immigrant workers would actually be increased nine-fold – in spite of Alexis Tam’s promises to the contrary – with the exception of those workers whose monthly incomes are lower than MOP4,550 – authorities seemed concerned to show they were acting nobly.
By giving the option to some half of the immigrant population residing in Macau, mainly domestic helpers, to apply for a certificate that would prove their low-income status – and thus enabling them to pay a rate readjusted only three-fold – the government suggested it was acting with good will.
Comparing the newly adjusted child birth fees for low income workers to the price of birth services in the Philippines, just made what was already looking a bit disturbing seem even more shameful – as if prices taken out of context could serve as justification for charging women foreign workers more to seek child birth services.
I don’t know what advisor is assisting the Secretary’s Office, but a person should acknowledge that there are discrepancies between the cost of living in the Philippines and Macau. There is barely a comparison in terms of economic metrics, from food prices and the cost of rent to the wages earned.
So the comparison is not meaningful.
Claiming that the regulation is being governed by a principle of ‘double positive discrimination’ just sounded as if the government was trying too hard to make itself look good when the damage was already done.
There is a fine line between implementing a neoliberal approach to policies that relate to immigrants – basically defined as providing nearly no benefits or support from the state – and prejudice, to use a mild word.
As blue card holders, residents don’t pay taxes, and the public coffers are stuffed with gambling money. Why are foreign workers entitled to less benefits if they actively participate in the local economy just like any other economically active person in town? Does the government fear that the hospital could not cope with the demand?
It might actually be easy to argue this given the obscene delays in the construction of the new medical complex. Easy as well to blame the most vulnerable.