Reading what Lei Chan U had to say this week about the functions of the Permanent Council for Social Dialogue startled me somehow. During an oral interpellation addressed to the government, Legislator Lei raised some doubts not only about the role but also the achievements of the Council in establishing a truly constructive dialogue between employers and employees. He went even further in questioning the sincerity of the government as to its genuine intention — repeated numerous times — to use to the full this venue. After all, as we were aptly reminded, this “consultative body” is officially entrusted by the Chief Executive to help the government carve up labor-related polices and aims at providing employers and employees with a platform to establish an equal and effective dialogue.” In brief, the Council is there to kickstart social dialogue and help the parties, including the government, reach a “consensus”.
My initial dismay arose when I traced back the origins of this Council. To be completely honest, I was expecting the so-called “plate-form” to be just one among many other consultative bodies supposed to help the government in drafting sound public policies while preserving social harmony: there are 44 such advisory committees today and quite a number have been created recently — even though a few have been axed as there used to be 47 two years ago. Just like anything in Macao, most of these are populated by the same old “personalities”: back in 2016, the Chinese publication All About Macau had revealed that some 24 “happy few” had been sitting on at least three boards of public agencies and consultative committees. Paul Tse and the ever loyal Vong In Fai totaled 7 such positions each, in total contradiction with Mr Chui Sai On’s 2015 pledge that no one could concurrently sit on more than three advisory bodies and for no more than six years in any case.
Most of these bodies are at best useless: after all, if they did not exist, we could have a real contradictory and public debate about policy making, one in which expertise would tend to indicate the overall direction rather than vested petty interests dedicating all their efforts at preserving the status quo and very occasionally engaging in damage control.
But the Permanent Council for Social Dialogue is actually not that recent, as it was created back in 1987 under the auspices of Governor Joaquim Pinto Machado, one of the founding members of the Social Democratic Party of Mario Soares and appointed by the latter, then president of Portugal, to the position of governor in 1986. These were times when socialism and social-democracy meant something in the territory, and that also paved the way for the Chinese-backed “livelihood faction” led by Alexandre Ho Si-Him, to grow in popularity and win the 1988 legislative elections with the highest number of votes, thus allowing for three truly independent figures to get into the Assembly.
So indeed, Mr Lei Chan U is right: the Council is but a shadow of what it used to be! But he himself bears part of the responsibility as the two figures representing workers’ interests are himself and Choi Kam Fu, and both of them are from the Macao Federation of Trade Unions (FAOM), a very pro-establishment and pro-Beijing organization that has failed, for example, to simply propose a Trade Union Law in the past two decades. Mr Lei is vice-president of that organization and was elected a first term legislator in September 2017 through indirect elections — that is to say that he ran for the position without any form of competition. And then on the side of the employers, one of the stellar figures representing “the employers” is none other than Kou Hoi In, himself also a legislator who was one of the most conservative voices in the Assembly, together with Dominic Sio, when the Labor Relations Law was amended back in 2015.
Indeed, members of these advisory bodies are today gate-keepers: they preserve the interests of their cast or corporation. The problem is, Mr Lei: you are one of them!