AL Plenary

Trade Union Law passed in first reading despite heavy criticism

The bill that aims to legalize and regulate the creation of Trade Unions in Macau was passed yesterday at the Legislative Assembly (AL) in its first reading.

Although the approval of the bill was never at risk since none of the lawmakers voted against it, the debate that followed its introduction by the Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lei Wai Nong, saw harsh criticism from most of the lawmakers who spoke in the plenary session.

Several lawmakers representing labor interests criticized the bill for, in the words of Che Sai Wang, “having significantly reduced the rights and guarantees that were proposed in other proposals submitted to the AL in the past and that were always voted down.”.

Many lawmakers considered the bill to be “halfhearted” adding that it lacks protection mechanisms for the workers involved in trade union activities.

Another common critique among the lawmakers was the fact that this proposal does not include the right to collective negotiation agreements nor the right to protest through strike action.

As lawmaker José Pereira Coutinho also mentioned, “these rights are central to this law and they are all missing from the bill,” noting also that the bill seems to limit workers to use associations and trade unions to offer opinions, and these have no force.

For Pereira Coutinho, the current bill needs to undergo some major changes when it is discussed in detail in the AL Standing Committee to be able to be “anymore more than useless.”

Coming from a similar point of view was Ron Lam, who said that this bill is “just a preliminary version of a Trade Union Law proposal,” although adding that is “a positive first step” towards the legal production of a law that protects the workers, remarking that it “still needs to have a lot of work to go through” to reach this stage.

Another lawmaker who criticized the lack of a right to strike or take collective action was Leong Sun Iok. Like Lam, Leong admitted that this is not the law which was expected and is needed, but he noted that it could be a starting point, sharing hopes that in the future, this bill could “evolve to a law that is best for workers.”

Several lawmakers from the business sector also expressed criticism, including Chui Sai Peng, Wang Sai Man, and Ip Sio Kai who considered the bill too “exaggerated” and “unbalanced.”

Wang even stated that the “rights of employers” were missing, and questioned the representative nature of a trade union group that can be constituted with only seven members.

“If a company has some 1,000 workers and only seven are part of a trade union how can these possibly represent those workers,” Wang said, despite the fact that he himself represents a sector with several hundreds of people.

Ip went even further on the critique aimed at the law stating that “workers’ rights are not the same in every company” and can vary according to different factors including the employer and activity sector, for which reason he disagrees with a “uniformization” of the creation of trade unions to every labor sector.

Wang also criticized the perceived role of the trade unions, stating that, it “looks like they are going to replace the negotiation role of the government side centered in the Labour Affairs Bureau (DSAL),” calling for a clear definition of the role of each party.

Ip also added that in his opinion the bill “should highlight the role of the government as leader of the negotiation process [between workers and employers].”

In response to the many inquiries and opinions, Lei said that a minimum of seven members for the creation of the trade union is “balanced and proportional,” reminding that for the creation of any association in Macau, the law only requires three members.

He also admitted that even if the trade unions will be part of the negotiation process in the future, their opinions are not legally binding.

The Secretary also justified the lack of a collective negotiation mechanism due to “no consensus during the public consultation on this matter.”

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