sábado, 25 de abril de 2009

A sombra do Primeiro de Maio

Handouts, crackdown a bid to quell Labour Day anger

Fox Yi Hu
South China Morning Post
April 24, 2009

Macau is cracking down on illegal workers and giving out cash to quell the anger of local labourers as unionists plan a Labour Day rally against "businesspeople ruling Macau".

Hundreds of illegal workers and subcontractors from the mainland and Hong Kong have been detained in the past few weeks in an extensive crackdown, which targeted private construction sites and those of public works projects.

On Wednesday, 14 police officers searched a public works site in Ha Van and detained 10 illegal workers and three subcontractors.

Two days earlier, police searched a casino construction site and detained three illegal workers from Hong Kong and three from the mainland. On the same day, 21 illegal workers sat atop a 47-floor residential tower, threatening suicide because of wage defaults. Authorities later forced a subcontractor to pay them.

Union leader Ng Sek-lo said the hiring of illegal workers was still common in Macau despite the casino sector's downturn. His union and two other labour groups, which were behind major protests in the past few years, will rally against "businesspeople ruling Macau" on May 1.

Mr Ng said Macau workers had realised that a lot of social problems stemmed from businessmen controlling the administration. "Many workers said they agreed with it and would rally under our new banner," he said. "As the chief executive election nears, we hope to see a non-businessman taking the top job."

The term "businesspeople ruling Macau" is a playful variant of "Macau people ruling Macau" as billed by Beijing and inscribed in the city's mini-constitution. Beijing favoured businessmen as chief executive candidates for Hong Kong and Macau when the cities were handed over. But corruption exposed in Macau's graft trials has weakened public confidence in the choice of top officials with business backgrounds.

Macau's rally on May 1 has gone beyond labour issues and become an annual show of social discontent in the past few years. New faces and new demands have emerged in such rallies, with teachers calling for respect for education, conservationists trying to save heritage sites from urban growth and people asking for universal suffrage.

Labour rallies in 2006 and 2007 led to violent clashes between police and protesters. In 2007, a policeman fired shots in the air and one of his bullets hit a man's neck as he was riding a motorcycle 300 metres away.

But the turnout this year is tipped to be small because of the crackdown on illegal workers and a timely cash giveaway by the government. Last week, Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah announced a cash-sharing scheme with 6,000 patacas for each permanent resident and 3,600 patacas for non-permanent residents.

Last year, a similar scheme was announced ahead of Labour Day, when just a few hundred people came out in a rally, compared with 6,000 protesters on May 1, 2007.

Political commentator Larry So Man-yum said workers' grievances were easing because of the government's "all-out" efforts against illegal workers and the cash giveaway.

"We are not going to see a rally of a few thousand people," he said. "Crackdowns on illegal workers have been non-stop and they even searched public works sites that were untouchable before ... Cash doled out will ease a lot of people's anger."

But Mr Ng said the cash giveaway would fail to have a major impact on the rally's turnout. "The problem is that a lot of people can't find work," he said. "Six thousand patacas can help them for a month, but what about the next month?"

Some unionists have begun a street campaign to mobilise people to join the rally, telling them that the cash giveaway is from public money that they deserve to share.

"Take the money and still come out," they said.

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