AL Plenary

Minimum wage bill passes first reading amid heated debate

The bill to raise the minimum wage to MOP34 per hour passed its first reading yesterday, with discussions mainly about the wage’s review period.

The bill proposes to increase the minimum wage depending on how salaries are calculated or paid.

For monthly wages, it is proposed to be MOP7,072; for weekly, MOP1,632; for daily, MOP272; for hourly, MOP34. For salary per part hourly, it should not be lower than MOP34 when the monthly salary is divided by the actual work hours during the month.

According to Article 9 of Law No 5/2020 – Minimum Wage for Employees, the level should be reviewed two years after the law’s promulgation and every two years thereafter.

Several lawmakers, including independent Ron Lam, civil servant unionists Che Sai Wang and José Pereira Coutinho, as well as trade unionists Leong Sun Iok and Ella Lei, expressed concern over this stipulation.

In reality, this review commenced exactly two years after the initial enactment of the law. However, this bill was only delivered to the parliament 1.5 years behind the two-year period, with all the work having been done before this bill was delivered to the parliament.

As such, the actual adjustment of the wage level is at least 3.5 years after the initial enactment of the law.

These lawmakers criticized the delay which meant the lower-income group was kept from catching up with the general inflation.

In response to this, Secretary for Economy and Finance Lei Wai Nong, who sat in yesterday’s plenary to introduce the bill and take questions from lawmakers, cited the law to support the government’s delay.

He said the government is working in accordance with legal stipulations, “which is a crucial embodiment of our governance according to the law.”

Despite his answer, Lei promised to study how the process could be expedited. The main challenge, he added, is the collection of timely data.

“Even data collected for last year by the Statistics and Census Service is still being revised,” Lei said.

While responding to Lam’s question, Secretary Lei also pledged that the next review will start Nov. 1, 2024.

Some of the lawmakers were unhappy and compared the city with its neighbor, Hong Kong, to suggest that in fact realizing an actual review within two years is possible.

In Hong Kong, there is the Minimum Wage Commission, “an independent statutory body established […] with the main function of reporting to the Chief Executive in Council its recommendation about the Statutory Minimum Wage rate at least once every two years,” according to the body’s website.

Leong suggested the government consider establishing a similar commission in Macau to focus on work related to the minimum wage.

“I understand that the Director [of Labour Affairs Wong Chi Hong] is often busy handling his many responsibilities,” the lawmaker said.

Leong asked whether the income supplement for disabled employees will also increase should the wage adjustment be made into law. Lei said that as of the second quarter of this year, 222 applications had been received for the supplement, of which 212 were approved, equating to MOP1.5 million.

Che also asked for a mechanism to handle the topic more scientifically. Secretary Lei said that there is a mechanism. Factors that are considered include economic and investment vitality, overall income level and opinions from the Social Coordination Permanent Commission.

Indirectly elected lawmakers Ip Sio Kai, deputy chief of Bank of China, Macau Branch and Wang Sai Man, businessman, spoke for and commended the government’s work. Calling for a focus on economic diversification rather than minimum wage, Wang even wished that one day, there would be no discussion on minimum wage because everybody would be earning much more than the wage.

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