Shuttle bus drivers in “extreme distress” – Legislator

Shuttle bus drivers labour representatives will hand over to Macau government on Monday a list of professionals “in extreme distress”, legislator José Pereira Coutinho told Lusa today.

“On Monday, I will accompany a group of eight representatives [of tour bus drivers who work for travel agencies] to submit a petition to the Chief Executive, with the full names and mobile phone numbers [of those] who are in situations of extreme distress ”, said Coutinho.

The legislator, who is also an advisor to Portuguese communities in Macau, stressed that he had received in recent days “complaints from about three dozen tour bus drivers, who receive MOP2,000 of base salary per month and when there are groups of tourists from Mainland China, (…) they receive ‘extra’ for each tourist”.

What happens at this moment is that “the travel agencies either fired or avoided paying the monthly MOP2,000”, an amount that, he explained, even with the support announced on Thursday by the Macau Government, is insufficient to “pay the fixed expenses and support to families with children”.

This case “exposes the weaknesses of the signed employment contracts based on a labour law that allows almost all types of abuse, from unfair dismissal, discrimination against certain professions for the non-payment of shift and night allowances”, something that, he stressed, does not occur “in almost all other professions”.

For Pereira Coutinho, the economic impact resulting from the coronavirus outbreak exposes “many vulnerabilities of the existing labor legal system in Macau, which, with the absence of union law regulation and collective bargaining, has always allowed all kinds of abuses in the face of the serious imbalance between workers and employers”.

The legislator and president of the Macau Civil Servants Association said that he had received in the last few days “dozens of individual complaints from workers forced to accept individual vacation days without pay and others [de] who were simply dismissed for not accepting these unfair conditions ”.

The legislator also stressed that the drivers in question “do not have paid holidays, nor medical and medication assistance”.

A case that serves to justify, he argued, his criticism of the fiscal, economic and social support measures announced by authorities yesterday.

Shuttle bus drivers were considered a high-risk group concerning possible Covid-19 infections, with health authorities saying today that 392 drivers were tested in the last three days with all showing negative results.

The Macau government announced tax benefits for companies and the population, a line of subsidized loans for SMEs and social support measures to reduce the economic impact due to the Covid-19 coronavirus, estimated at MOP2.2 billion.

The Secretary for Economy and Finance explained that the exceptional measures include exemption or reduction of taxes, the opening of a loan line with subsidized interest rates, the strengthening of social support, as well as the launch of electronic consumption vouchers.

In terms of professional tax, the tax rebate will be increased to 70 per cent, up to a limit of MOP20,000 patacas, as well as an increase in the fixed deduction from the taxable income to 30 per cent.

The Government also decided to exempt residents from the payment of the urban property tax of housing units for the year 2019.

The population of Macau will also be exempt from paying electricity and water tariffs between March and May.

The Macau government had already announced the anticipation for April of the annual wealth contribution scheme cash handout, MOP10,000 and MOP6,000 for permanent and non-permanent residents, respectively.

On a social level, for underprivileged, there is a new allocation of health vouchers worth MOP600 and the allocation of two extra subsidies to households that already benefited from economic support.

The Government will also deliver electronic consumer vouchers for each resident of Macau worth MOP3,000.

As for companies, in addition to tax exemptions and reductions, they will be able to benefit from a package of subsidized or even interest-free credit lines, with extended terms for the respective payment.

SMEs that are left out of these special plans can apply for support of MOP600,000, free of interest, being obliged to pay the debt for the next eight years.

Macau, which currently has seven cases of coronavirus infection, closed casinos for 15 days and ordered the closure of nightlife establishments, sports, and cultural spaces, and students and civil servants home to work remotely.

These exceptional measures have practically paralyzed the economy of the world capital of gambling and whose tourism industry is also very dependent on visitors from the Chinese territory, where the Covid-19 coronavirus has already killed 1,380 people in Mainland China and infected more than 63,000 people.