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Non-residents losing the labour game

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image The Indonesian worker remains illegally in Macau since August after she was only granted a 10-day visa while waiting for a dispute with her employer to be solved

Even though she spent Christmas Eve sheltering in a rooftop shed like a criminal, Dini has no regrets about filing a complaint alleging that her employer breached the labour laws. But that decision cost the Indonesian non-resident worker her job and the right to stay in Macau.
In early July 2011 Dini reported a labour dispute, accusing her ex-employer of not giving her an employment contract, overtime compensation, payroll records or paid sick leave, according to a certificate issued by the Labour Affairs Bureau (DSAL).
“Dini took a fatal step,” says a local senior legal consultant. “She should never have been to the bureau unless a complaint letter was sent to her employer, clarifying the reasons why she wants to terminate the contract. That should have been the first step.”
According to the consultant, the law does not care whether or not a non-resident worker has been to DSAL, but requires a notice that the worker has just cause for termination. The letter then serves as evidence that the employer is informed of the complaint.
“The letter is the key as well as the proper way to verify the date and the receiver, and that will determine how many days of compensation an employee can get, and how long the conflict lasts.”
When employers fail to provide any payroll records they have already violated the law, said Cecilia Ho. “They should take initiative in assisting imported workers to set up a bank account, for instance, providing home address for verification,” the social work professor at the Macau Polytechnic Institute explained.

First to strike

Her employer at once terminated Dini’s contract and her blue card was also cut the following day. She headed to the Immigration Department to present her case in the hope of retaining the stay permit but was only granted a ten-day visa that expired in August.
“Once she was fired, the job was lost forever. Employers don’t need any reason for layoff, but just need to pay compensation. The one who strikes first gains an advantage,” the consultant explained.
Employers have an absolute advantage to do what they want against any disobedient immigrant workers, Ho said. “Technically speaking her [Dini’s] employer has done nothing illegal to terminate out of revenge, though it is quite sad to say so,” she added.
According to Dini, before her dismissal, she was not only a full-time domestic helper but also served at her employer’s childcare centre as a cleaner, cook and babysitter, working on average 12 hours a day with no extra compensation.
When Dini brought up the issue, she says the DSAL inspector assigned to her case warned her of possible arrest for violating her statement of work by carrying out these extra duties. She says the inspector advised her to remain silent or risk being penalised.
“I didn’t dare to say no to my employer at first, especially when I was a new arrival to the city and had no idea of what I am supposed to do,” she admits.

Employers have an absolute advantage to do what they want against any disobedient immigrant workers:

Cecilia Ho

Fraud suspicion

The Indonesian’s monthly salary of MOP 3,300 was paid in cash without any signed document or bank account record, and she says that she was shocked to see the payroll amount said she was paid MOP 5,100.
“It is probably a fraud,” said Ho. She pointed out that the bureau’s failure to prevent employers from illegally hiring imported workers for low wages makes it an accomplice in ‘destroying’ the local labour market.
The lack of coordination between government departments worries Ho. “If it is a case of fraud or forgery, how should the Judiciary Police get involved? And when a blue card is cut maliciously, how should the Immigration Department be informed?” she asked.
“Now I don’t see any communication mechanism between them and I don’t think the Labour Affairs Bureau can solve it out alone,” Ho said.
In May, Dini hurt her neck and lower back while working and had to undergo treatment. The doctor advised her to get rest and gave her a medical certificate for sick-leave approval. Dini says her employer disregarded the report and forced her to work as usual.
The DSAL inspector didn’t believe her: “I’ve spoken to your boss, she was quite nice… Are you sure that it is not your fault? Are you not lying? Why don’t you negotiate with her directly for solution?’ That’s what she [the inspector] said. I was so frustrated,” Dini recalls.
“Shouldn’t the bureau first interrogate why the employer sends her domestic helper to work elsewhere? The answer is simple, immigrant workers are ill-favoured,” said the consultant.

‘Just a tool’

The DSAL inspector initiated negotiations between the two parties in early August and the employer agreed to pay for Dini’s ticket to leave Macau. Dini says that afterwards the inspector kept asking her when she planned to leave.
In her eyes, the inspector seemed inclined to close the file as soon as possible, rather than doing a further followed-up on her case. “She asked me, ‘Have you ever considered giving it up?’”
“It happens in many similar cases already and they still remained unresolved,” Ho bemoaned. “The follow-up appears to be pending forever. The staff seems less concerned in their bureaucratic approach as the litigant is no longer in Macau.”
A DSAL spokesperson has refused to comment on this case but promised that disciplinary proceedings shall be given to the inspector if she is proven to have violated the code of conduct.
When the six-month ban came into effect, DSAL director Shuen Ka Hung promised that outside workers would be allowed to terminate their contract with just reason. But in reality, things are not going according to plan, said Ho.
“The way the DSAL staff tackles complaints suggests that migrant workers are nothing more than a tool: just send them home directly if anything goes wrong,” she criticised.

Before being laid-off, Dini was not only a domestic helper but also served at her employer’s childcare centre as a cleaner, cook and babysitter, working on average 12 hours a day with no extra compensation

On the run

With the fine for overstaying in Macau set at MOP 200 per day and the accumulated amount growing, Dini is getting desperate. Anxiety has begun to test her determination, the longer she evades the police.
“I know Macau is not our hometown, and we are not asking for more. But we’re all humans. Why do we not deserve to be respected and cared? When we do our part, we should be paid fairly. I don’t care if they will blacklist me. I just fight for my rights.”
But the odds don’t look good for Dini. No case where a non-resident worker won a dispute with her or his employer has so far been reported, Ho emphasised.
When Dini is caught, she will probably be forced to leave and be banned from entering Macau for two or three years, the consultant said. “And that’s the best-case scenario in Macau. It’s a shame. For now an employer who knows how to better play the game always wins,” he concludes.
Furthermore, Dini’s efforts to enlist the help of the authorities makes her an exception, said Ho. Newspaper reports on domestic helpers’ high turnover rate creates an unwelcome and negative image of non-resident staff as seeking to ‘steal’ jobs from locals. Under such circumstances, most migrant workers prefer to remain silent and tolerate exploitation, she observes.

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