Special report | Without legal protections, security guards must accept the unacceptable

The absence of protections for non-resident workers in Macau has led to a number of complaints and outcries from employees – not only from those in household work, but also from the security sector.

The long working hours of security guards – some of which are allegedly forced to work up to 24 hours continuously – have caused many of them to file cases against their employers with the Labour Affairs Bureau.

According to data provided to the Times last quarter, the bureau had opened 33 cases involving a total of 59 staff in the sector. The complaints were mainly about overtime and weekly rest day compensation.

“During this period, all the complaints that were established were resolved through the bureau and were not required to be sent to the judiciary for trial,” the bureau said.

This week, the Times requested updated figures and asked whether progress have been made on the cases, but the DSAL did not reply by press time.

The majority of the security guards are allegedly working shifts longer than the normal eight hours, with many of them working up to 16 hours per day.

Although they voluntarily do so, these workers were said to have signed waivers, agreeing to work overtime without being paid the standard 50 percent premium on the hourly wage as compensation.

An industry insider explained, “the normal hours for security guards is 12 hours per shift, this is normal [in Macau].”

However, this statement does not reflect what is written in the SAR’s labor laws.

The statutory maximum regarding working hours is eight per day, 48 hours per week – in all sectors.

The law also states that non-resident workers are entitled to 10 days of mandatory holidays and a minimum annual leave of six working days after one year of service.

However, many security guards experience otherwise.

A security employee, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the case, said, “I didn’t have any days off for about five or six years, but now I do.”

The employee, who has been in the industry for 14 years, said that their conditions are considered better nowadays compared to several years ago, when security companies were not compensating them for extra working hours.

“It was a lot harder before. I used to work 16.5 hours [daily] for 10 years and we were asked to sign a waiver,” the non-resident added.

The non-resident works 14 hours per day – six of which are paid some 15 percent more than his hourly wage.

According to the employee, the basic salary is around MOP5,500 per month, with an additional MOP500 monthly allowance.

Lawyer and labor law expert Miguel Quental is aware of the cases and affirmed the statement, saying that there are some 1,000 cases regarding similar matters pending in the court.

Quental disclosed that there have been many cases of guards working 24 hours continuously on many days.

“The problem is that the law does not have a limit on voluntary work. If you want to work voluntarily, the law does not have any limits,” he explained. “A limit should exist.”

“What happens most of the time […] is that non-resident workers are forced to sign a declaration that they want to work overtime, on rest days and mandatory holidays. Even if they don’t want to, they must sign it or else they’ll be fired.”

Since most would rather stay and work in the region, these workers have no choice but to sign the waivers, particularly during visa renewal processes – a move that makes it difficult for them to defend themselves in court.

When asked whether this is a consequence of the city’s lack of protections for migrant workers, Quental said that, regrettably, these matters are considered a “big deal,” yet something that cannot be controlled.

Another security employee lamented that some companies provide no pay slips at the end of every month.

“It is suspicious, because where then can we compute our salaries with overtime?” he asked.

The worker, who also asked not to be identified, said that he had worked 36 hours continuously due to a lack of manpower at his firm, and gone a year without a rest day.

Meanwhile, recruitment agencies also play a significant part in these workers’ labor concerns.

Some are required to pay up to three months’ worth of their salary to these agencies to get a job.

“The agencies are the biggest cancer in Macau,” Quental said.

“This is a big problem that nobody cares about and this is something very serious. These guys are paying MOP20,000 to have a job.”

The labor law expert mentioned that the government was aware that these companies paid their employees within nine days once terminated, or when a contract would end.

However, most of these employees would be given air tickets for the next day and were unable to collect their pending salaries.

These conditions are still considered “better” compared to the conditions in 2003 to 2006.

The Times contacted two security firms to confirm the statements, however one gave no official reply by press time, and the other refused to comment.

Migrant groups have been calling for a review of the city’s labor law policies, particularly for a standard contract with clean definitions of labor standards to be implemented in the SAR.

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