Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 07:52 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Macau SAR (China)

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Macau SAR (China), 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 476,700
ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

While a new labour law was passed in 2009, Macau remains without universal freedom of association. Strikes are rare and difficult to organise successfully, and there is little practical protection against the blacklisting and sacking of strikers. Collective bargaining is weak, and the power of pro-establishment, pro-Beijing unions remains strong despite new and independent trade unions. In 2010, migrant workers complained over a new and potentially discriminatory law for migrants while concern remains over trafficking. A May Day rally turned violent after police intervened and one unionist was arrested.


Problematic areas remain in the legal framework for trade unions despite the adoption of a new labour relations law in 2009. Freedom of association is guaranteed under local law, and the law prohibits the dismissal of workers on grounds of their membership of a union or their union activities. However, the new labour relations law fails to provide adequate protection for part-time workers and migrant workers whilst providing excessive flexibility to employers. The Guidelines on the Professional Ethics and Conduct of Public Servants also appear to require civil servants to seek prior permission from managers before joining a trade union. Furthermore, while Macau legislation provides that agreements concluded between employers and workers shall be valid, it does not explicitly state that such agreements should be concluded or that they should involve collective bargaining.


Background: While economic growth slumped sharply in the wake of the global financial crisis, the casino construction boom has restarted again. Unrest over the importation of migrant workers at low wages has increased along with worker protests. National security laws passed at the end of 2008 could lead to the restriction of union activity on grounds of subversion, sedition or succession. Corruption remains a problem, and the government is still very much under the influence of the central government.

China's influence over union activity: It is widely believed that the central government of the People's Republic of China has a strong influence over local trade union activities, including the direct selection of the leadership of the largest private sector union, the Federation of Trade Unions. Nearly all of the six main private sector unions belong to this pro-Beijing federation. This has undermined the independence of trade unions, since support for central government policies, such as the minimisation of workplace disruption, overrides the protection of the rights and interests of trade union members. There have been reports of intimidation of those who do speak out against the Beijing government both politically and in terms of labour rights. Civil society is weak, but there has been a growth of smaller and more vocal trade unions, alongside a growth in civil society associations.

Difficulties in registering organisations and trade unions: In practice, many labour groups and unions find it difficult to register as organisations, and informal worker groups are not permitted to exist. In many cases organisers are asked to submit the names of potential members before registration. However, due to fears of retribution and blacklisting, many supporters are unwilling to provide full details.

Employment relationships one-sided: It is common practice in Macau for workers not to have formal employment contracts with their employers. The power of employers to unilaterally change the wages and working conditions of employees or to terminate employment is therefore unchecked. In the context of this employer power and with no legal-institutional framework for collective bargaining or for employment contracts, workers are easily victimised and discriminated against for their union activities. The use of temporary contracts has also been increasing, making workers even more vulnerable to abuse and intimidation.

Migrant workers denied rights: Migrant workers are denied basic forms of protection and have no right to collective bargaining and no effective legal recourse in the case of unfair dismissal. Most generally earn less than half the wage of local workers employed at the same job, and contracts are between labour recruitment agents and the employer, rather than directly between the employee and the employer. There is also little supervision of recruitments agencies and their fees.

The new law on the Employment of Foreign Employees from October 2009 remains discriminatory and is too vague. The bill imposes a levy on employers of non-resident workers, gives a six month re-entry ban on workers who terminate their contracts and prohibits the transfer to other job categories. In May 2010 migrant workers held a protest against what they see as anti-migrant policies.

Rising wage arrears and lengthy procedures for remedy: With more foreign investment in the SAR, the increasing use of sub-contractors and the use of less-protected migrant workers, wage arrears has become a common problem, especially in the construction sector. The procedure to get wage arrears in front of the Labour Bureau is lengthy and cumbersome. According to the Civil Servants Union, a simple labour dispute could take one year to process by the Bureau followed by another two years in court. The majority of migrant workers cannot afford to wait this long, and many leave within this period.

Blacklisting unionists and denial of re-entry to Macau: The Macau SAR Government is believed to keep a blacklist of local workers who have supported local strikes and regularly denies entry to "trouble-makers".

Six-month ban on migrant workers discriminatory: In April 2009 the Law for the Employment of Non-residential Workers, or the Law on Imported Labour, came into force with the aim of safeguarding the employment of local workers and restricting the hiring of migrant workers. The law means that migrant workers who lose or end their contracts face an effective six-month ban from seeking new employment in Macau, and many believe the law could be used by employers seeking to unfairly get rid of employees. Migrant worker groups in Macau have expressed concern over reports that some 382 migrant workers have already been affected by the law and banned for six months. They have also expressed dismay at the way the law is being implemented: without due process and with an appeal process that can take up to a year. Visas may not be extended during this time.

One example given is that of an Indonesian sacked by her employer after taking the mandatory statutory holiday (1 May) despite being told she could not. The employer told immigration she had absconded, and she was then banned from the territory for a six-month period. However, even though she appealed the decision, she was only given a ten-day visa and thus had to leave Macau before her appeal was heard. Even if the appeal was upheld, she would not be able to find new work in Macau, as she would have to re-enter on a tourist visa and the Macau authorities have announced that they would not allow such persons to be granted working permits.

Union leader arrested during violent May Day protest: Lei Sio-kuan, president of the Macau Workers Power Union – one of the five protest organisers – was arrested for assaulting an Australian during a May Day rally attended by around 1,000. Lei himself denies the assault. According to official reports some 41 people, including 32 policemen and two journalists, were hurt, although these figures were given at a later stage. Four were hospitalised.

Some 350 riot police used water cannons and pepper spray when marchers tried to force a way through barricades while the protesters reportedly responded with rocks and bottles. The protest continued until early the next morning. One unionist later said police used excessive force and anti-triad tactics. Workers also reported that the authorities had rejected their proposed march route on short notice and that they had had no time to develop a new proposal. May Day rallies have become increasingly large and volatile in the past few years as complaints over corruption, low pay and migrant workers have increased.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld