Police clash with Macau jobless

By Harald Bruning, South China Morning Post, Monday 8 May 2000

A construction worker and six policemen were injured yesterday during Macau's biggest labour rally since the handover. Up to 500 jobless workers marched on the office of the Chief Executive, Edmond Ho Hau-wah, demanding an end to the importation of foreign labour.

Police made repeated baton charges to clear the crowd outside the office on Alameda Dr Carlos d'Assumpcao. About 200 of the 500 protesters refused to leave and scuffles broke out with the police as demonstrators were prevented from entering the building's lobby. One man was arrested and will appear in court today.

Police said Mr Ho was not in the office. The demonstrators only began to leave after a representative from his office accepted a petition letter. The injuries were mostly minor, but a Macau Security Forces source said it might have been worse without the mediation efforts of pro-democracy lawmaker Antonio Ng Kuok-cheong.

Mr Ng would not say whether he thought the police used excessive force, but said such confrontations were inevitable with high unemployment. Unemployment is a real problem in Macau, and in this type of situation, unhappy events like this may happen, he said.

In a statement issued last night, the Government called for calm and said it was working on job-creation programmes. It said people must respect the law even when exercising their right to protest.

A spokesman for the demonstrators, Fung Kou-chio, said 70 per cent of the 20,000 construction workers had been unemployed for between several weeks and several months. The import of cheap labour from China must stop, said Mr Fung, who said he had been jobless for about six months.

The rally started at Friendship Square on Praia Grande Bay at 10am and the last of the protesters did not leave from outside Mr Ho's office until 4pm.

I don't want to beg for money and I don't want to steal, but how can I feed my family? said one jobless worker at the rally.

About 30,000 labourers have been imported from the mainland, the Philippines and elsewhere. The Government put the jobless figure at 6.7 per cent, or 14,000 people, in the first three months of this year, but social workers and economists said the true figure was closer to 10 per cent.

Structural unemployment has mainly hit Fujianese immigrants, who make up the bulk of local construction and other manual workers. About 20 per cent of the enclave's 438,000 residents are of Fujianese origin.

Yesterday's demonstration was staged by a loosely organised group of construction and interior decoration workers. The powerful pro-Beijing General Labour Unions Association did not join.

The Government has said it will introduce new job creation programmes and impose rules to force local businesses, mainly in construction, to hire local workers first.

But it said it would not end the labour import scheme, started in the late 1980s under the Portuguese administration when the economy was flourishing. The scheme has remained in place despite rising unemployment, a property glut and negative GDP growth associated with falling casino gambling receipts.