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Macau legislators reject trade union bill for 6th time

Lawmaker-cum-unionist Jose Pereira Coutinho’s labour union bill was defeated for the sixth time on Monday in the Legislative Assembly (AL). Coutinho proposed six different bills, including the trade union bill, all of which were voted down. The other ill-fated bills concerned a wide range of issues such as employees’ protection from discrimination over gender and […]

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UPDATED: 22 Dec 2023, 5:48 am

Lawmaker-cum-unionist Jose Pereira Coutinho’s labour union bill was defeated for the sixth time on Monday in the Legislative Assembly (AL).

Coutinho proposed six different bills, including the trade union bill, all of which were voted down.

The other ill-fated bills concerned a wide range of issues such as employees’ protection from discrimination over gender and sexual orientation, information confidentiality, the promotion of international human and labour rights conventions, and the protection of Coloane’s status as the city’s “green lung”,

Coutinho said that the right to form a trade union was in line with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Global Labour Agreements which the government signed in 2001, and yet, he said, the government had failed to come up with a trade union bill in all those years. He added that a trade union law was necessary so as to grant unions the legal right to represent workers should they face abuse from their employers.

The lawmaker, who heads the Macau Civil Servants Association (ATFPM), has been pushing the trade union bill to pass the legislature for the past five years, and the bill faced its sixth defeat on Monday.

Legislator-cum-unionist Leong Veng Chai supported Coutinho’s bill, pointing out that Macau’s neighbouring regions and countries have already established their own labour union laws. He said a trade union law would benefit the government as many labour disputes could be resolved without the government’s involvement. Leong is an ATFPM vice-president.

However, directly-elected legislator Melinda Chan Mei Yi, who voted for the bill in 2013 but voted against it in subsequent years, said while she agreed that Macau is in dire need of a trade union law, she was unhappy that Coutinho failed to address the opinions of fellow legislators who voiced their concerns about his unsuccessful trade union bills in previous years.

She pointed to a particular clause in the bill that she disagreed with in previous years, which states that if a union disbands, it does not have to refund membership fees. She said that the members should get their money back should the union dissolve and that is financial details should be transparent.

However, Coutinho said that as Monday’s meeting was only a general debate, adding that if the bill was passed, he would be more than happy to amend the bill in the subsequent committee meetings.

Chan was among other legislators who voted against Coutinho’s bill, but urged the government to draft its own trade union bill.

Government-appointed legislator Tommy Lau Veng Seng, who also voted against the bill, questioned the timing of the bill, pointing to the year-long gaming revenue drop. He said he felt the government should focus on the city’s economic development, adding that passage of the trade union bill might “scare away” foreign businesses.

Meanwhile, Workers’ Self Help Union’s Secretary Cheong Weng Fat handed in a petition from his group before the meeting, urging the government to support Coutinho’s trade union bill in order to better protect local workers from employers’ abuse. (macaunews/macaupost)

UPDATED: 22 Dec 2023, 5:48 am

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