Third Standing Committee of the AL | Migrant workers claim meeting cut short for lack of translators

Erik Lestari (center)

The Third Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly (AL) unexpectedly cut short a planned two-hour meeting with representatives of the city’s domestic helpers due to a translator’s private matter.

On Friday, the committee met with three representatives of Macau’s domestic helpers to hear and respond to the domestic helpers’ appeals. However, the meeting, which was first planned two weeks ago, finished approximately one hour earlier than planned.

Erik Lestari of the Indonesia Migrant’s Rights Advocate told the media that the sudden suspension was due to the translator, who was translating between Cantonese and English, needing to leave the meeting early to resolve a personal matter.

Vong Hin Fai, chairman of the committee, insisted that accusations about the translator having a sudden other engagement were “not true.”

Vong explained that the domestic helpers’ representatives changed the meeting schedule and the translator already had a meeting arranged for the same time.

The lawmaker said that the committee “is still very willing to continue listening to the relevant people’s appeal.” He failed to provide an answer as to whether there will be another meeting, but said it depends on those submitting the request.

Previously, Vong had said his committee was willing to listen to the opinions of domestic helpers, but only if he could ascertain that they were genuine associations.

The one-hour discussion, according to the domestic helpers’ representatives, was “frustrating.”

“They don’t seem to know anything,” said Lestari.

The two parties discussed the Law of Employment Agency Activity, which was drafted by the government in December 2017 and is still under consultation at the Legislative Assembly committee.

The most controversial part of the bill concerns agency fees. The bill proposes an agency fee corresponding to 50% of the first month’s basic remuneration, to be collected from workers after 60 days from the start of employment. The bill will still result in workers facing a debt bondage, the group said.

The group suggested that agencies seeking greater profits may collaborate with employers in hiring and firing workers to exploit the fee system.

“The government should clarify if the basic remuneration herein defined has the same meaning as listed in the Employment Relations Law,” said Lestari.

The representatives also complained about language difficulties. They hope that the Macau government can provide more information in languages other than Chinese and Portuguese, for instance in English.

On the same day, representatives of employment agencies also met with the committee.

The agencies’ representatives deem it unfair that the bill proposes that agencies cannot help tourists gain employment as a domestic helper. They believe that it is unfair that employers can directly hire a tourist as a domestic helper.

Whereas domestic helpers complained that fines seeking to discourage improper agency behavior were too lenient, agencies think they are too heavy. Fines are set at approximately 2,000 patacas.

The domestic helpers have also claimed that some passports belonging to domestic helpers in Macau are illegally kept by employment agencies.

According to Vong Hin Fai, agencies have reminded their members not to violate the law, and the committee also recommended that domestic helpers report these cases to the police authority.

Vong revealed that representatives of employment agencies want to ban employers from directly hiring non-local workers and proposed that all Macau’s non-local workers should be hired through such agencies.

Employment agencies also want non-local workers to be trained whenever their blue card is renewed, so the agencies can provide the training and then charge a fee for it.

To ensure employers can hire high quality workers, employment agencies have been providing training to workers, according to Vong.

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