Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2017, 12:01 GMT

2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Macau SAR (China)

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Macau SAR (China), 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 24 November 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: 503,000
ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

Legislation is not favourable to trade unions and workers wishing to protect their rights. Freedom of association is guaranteed in law but does not extend to public servants or migrant workers. Collective bargaining is not guaranteed.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: Freedom of association is guaranteed under section 4 of Law No. 2/99/M. Trade unions may be formed and anyone can join one. Section 45 of Decree-Law No. 24/89/M prohibits the dismissal of workers on the grounds of their membership of a trade union or their trade union activities. Section 347 of the Penal Code is ostensibly a deterrent against public authorities interfering in workers' freedom of association.

However, new guidelines developed by the Commission Against Corruption (CCAC), require that civil servants must obtain approval from their managers before joining associations or becoming leading figures in labour associations, in violation of the Macau SAR Basic Law. Secretary for Administration and Justice, Florinda Chan, accepted criticism from pro-democracy legislators and said that supplementary guidelines would be published to clarify the concerning stipulations. No further information is available.

No guarantee of collective bargaining: Section 6 of Decree-Law No.24/89/M provides that agreements concluded between employers and workers shall be valid. However, it does not explicitly state that such agreements should be concluded or that they should involve collective bargaining.

Public servants excluded: Certain clauses such as sections 3(2) and 3(3) of Decree-Law No. 24/89/M specifically exclude public servants and migrant workers from the protection of the labour law.

Trade union law under discussion: After the veto of a proposed trade union law in 2005, trade unions continue to push for a new trade union law. However, the government has not provided a timetable for the legislation.

Labour Bill amendments not accepted: The second draft of amendments to the Labour Bill was not supported by trade unions, including the largest and pro-Beijing General Association of Workers of Macau. Though there are progressive amendments such as longer maternity leave, the second draft also shortened the notification period for dismissals and resignations and failed to outline the maximum working hours and minimum wages. The amendments were not passed and discussions will continue in 2007.

Trade union rights in practice

Many unions tend to resemble local traditional neighbourhood associations, promoting social and cultural activities rather than issues relating to the workplace.

Employers' power: It is common practice in Macau for workers not to have formal employment contracts with their employers. The power of employers to change unilaterally the wages and working conditions of employees or to terminate their employment (which is equivalent to dismissal) is therefore unchecked. In the context of this excessive employer power and with no legal-institutional framework for collective bargaining or even employment contracts, workers are easily victimised and discriminated against for their union activities. The use of temporary contracts has reportedly been increasing, thereby reducing the number of workers covered by pensions, sick leave, paid holidays and other benefits, as well as effectively reducing wage bills.

No protection for strikers: While the right to strike is supposed to be protected by law, there is no legal protection against retribution by employers for involvement in strike action. Striking workers may therefore be dismissed during or after industrial action, regardless of the negotiated outcome. Strike leaders and union activists also report that they are blacklisted by the local business sector.

China's influence: 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 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 extremely weak in Macau and the growing influence of the central government, combined with increasing prosperity for many residents, will help further reduce independent worker movements.

Migrant workers: The number of migrant workers reached 60,000 in October 2006. Migrant workers make up more than one tenth of the population and 21 per cent of the workforce. About 60 per cent of the migrant workers are from mainland China, 10 per cent from Hong Kong and the rest from South East Asia and other regions. They are denied the most basic forms of protection. Although migrant workers usually have employment contracts, they have no right to collective bargaining and no effective legal recourse in the case of unfair dismissal. While they are entitled to compensation as a result of dismissal before the termination of their contracts, it is common practice for migrant workers to be issued with short-term contracts under which the non-renewal of the contract amounts to dismissal. The use of illegal (and hence unprotected) labour is also a problem for Macau authorities who regularly launch crackdowns on the use of illegally imported workers, from South East Asia and mainland China. They mainly work in construction, small and medium-sized enterprises and as domestic helpers. It is claimed that the high percentage of foreign labour is eroding the bargaining power of local residents to improve working conditions and increase wages. With the increasing number of construction projects (Casinos and hotels primarily) there has been a relaxation of regulations allowing the importation of labour from the mainland. Many unions and other groups have been trying to ensure that the use of imported labour does not unduly affect wage rates for local workers and that migrants are covered by union bodies.

Violations in 2006

May Day protests repressed: Some 3,000 workers joined a May Day Rally and clashed with police when trying to reach the government headquarters to express their demands for more effective policing of illegal workers and a limitation on imported workers, making it the biggest protest since 2 July 2000, when police used tear gas to dispense workers protesting against unemployment. Eight labour organisations including the Association for Promoting Livelihood in Macau, the Association for Promoting Livelihood of Workers in Macau, the Labour Union of Macau, the Mutual Help Association for Construction Workers in Macau, the Decoration Workers' Association of Macau, the Concrete Sector Workers' Association of Macau, the Cleaners' Association of Macau, and the Property Management Workers' Association of Macau organised the May Day march. The pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, like its counterpart in Hong Kong (the HKFTU) stayed away from the May Day march. Little publicity was given to demands calling for imported labour to be given similar safeguards and wages as resident workers.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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