ITUC OnLine – May 2, 2007

Brussels, 2 May 2007 (ITUC OnLine): Macao, one of the Special Administrative Regions of China, must do far more to respect workers’ rights, a new ITUC report makes clear. Released to coincide with the Trade Policy Review of Macao at the World Trade Organisation, the report finds that while a new bill that is promised to improve labour legislation has been under preparation for years, it still has yet to be adopted.

“We expect the new Bill amending labour legislation to comply fully with the relevant core labour conventions and to enhance the effective protection of workers exercising their rights”, said Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ITUC.

Certain groups of workers face almost insurmountable problems when it comes to organizing. This is the case with domestic workers, the ITUC report finds. Freedom of association is supposedly guaranteed by the law, but enforcement of that provision is lacking.

While the right to strike is also supposed to be protected by law, there is no legal protection against retribution by employers for involvement in strike action. Striking workers may therefore easily be dismissed during or after industrial action, regardless of the negotiated outcome.

At the Sands Casino, union officials representing the cleaners’ union were sacked because of their legitimate efforts to bring their employer to pay the wages that were withheld from their members.

While migrant workers make up more than one tenth of the population and 21 percent of the workforce, they are denied the most basic forms of protection. Even though they usually have employment contracts, they have no right to collective bargaining and no effective legal recourse in the case of unfair dismissal. It is common practice for them to be issued with short-term contracts under which the non-renewal of the contract amounts to dismissal.

Discrimination against women is a problem in Macao, especially concerning remuneration. Existing estimates show remarkable differences between men and women, especially in unskilled jobs where the average monthly salary earned by men in 2003 was 50% higher than the salary earned by women, according to the ITUC report. There has been some improvement regarding the number of women holding positions of responsibility in the public sector, but progress in the private sector has been far slower. Moreover, there is no legislation prohibiting sexual harassment in employment and occupation.

Violations of restrictions imposed on public meetings and demonstrations may be punishable by imprisonment and forced labour, despite the fact that international labour standards prohibit the use of compulsory labour as a punishment for expressing views opposed to the established political, social or economic system. Moreover, compulsory prison labour may also be the punishment for a “negligent” attitude of a public official, once more infringing international labour standards.

Finally, the ITUC report finds that trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation is a major problem in Macao. Prosecution of traffickers has not been effective and victims have faced serious difficulties in receiving assistance.

Click here to download the full report.