A Macau government-backed proposal for a bill to create a legal framework for the work of trade unions in the city has raised some concerns among gaming labour groups, said several labour representatives in comments to GGRAsia. Public consultation on the bill’s possible terms started on October 31 and runs until December 14.
The bill would cover topics including legal recognition for trade unions to negotiate collectively on behalf of workers in dealings with employers.
An area of concern for some is a suggestion that any given labour group would need to represent at least 50 percent of the workers in a company before the labour group could be recognised for bargaining purposes.
In addition, only one labour group would be officially recognised per company, according to the government proposal.
“If the government only allows a single trade union to represent workers within a company, that union could easily be dominated by some big, local associations that already have a lot of resources and an established network with the employer,” said Cloee Chao Sao Fong, leader of the New Macau Gaming Staff Rights Association, in comments to GGRAsia.
Macau legislator Leong Sun Iok, representing the city’s traditionalist labour group, the Macau Federation of Trade Unions, also had reservations about the proposal. That was regarding a draft provision that he deemed has “lack of clarity” on who could assume some administrative role in whatever workplace-level union branch might be established.
“The government proposal does not specify which level of a company’s management” would be barred from “assuming the administration role of the labour union,” noted Mr Leong.
“That could give room for a company’s senior management to exert influence on the workings of the union,” he added.
Ms Chao also told GGRAsia: “A corporation’s union could be easily manipulated by the company. The employer could just simply ask staff to join that firm’s union upon their admission to the company. In that way, the union can be easily influenced” by management, and “not be able to reflect the true voices or concerns of the workers”.
In the consultation document, the government also proposes that any agreement reached between a labour union and a respective employer – resulting from a collective negotiation process – should be automatically extended to the non-union members employed by the same company.
“For the minority group of workers that are not part of a firm’s labour union, they may not agree to what has been negotiated between a labour union and the employer. So, is there any way for this minority group of workers to get their voices respected?” Ms Chao wondered.
The gaming labour activist also said the proposal made no mention of protecting workers’ right to strike.
Such right had already been conferred under Macau’s Basic Law, said the city’s Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng, during a November question and answer session with local media regarding the government’s 2022 Policy Address.
Mr Ho stated at the time: “Is it that we have explicitly to spell out the right to strike or the right to [collectively] bargain in this trade union bill? These two rights have already been conferred in the [Macau SAR] Basic Law.”
“What has been in practice is that people here do have the right to collectively bargain, and we have not denied that right.”
He added: “As seen in the past, there were cases where gaming industry workers had collectively asked for a wage increase.”
The Chief Executive added: “What we want to achieve [with the bill] is that we are now setting out how a trade union should be organised. And I don’t think this bill is leaning towards the protecting of employers.”
He urged the public to express opinions on the proposed bill during the consultation process.
As well as the concept of a union branch at company level, the Macau government has also suggested there might be separate unions for each industrial sector or profession.
Previous proposals, by a number of lawmakers, for a trade union law in Macau did not make progress at the legislative phase. But this is the first time the Macau government has put forward its own proposal for a trade union law.
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