Relaxation of travel rules seen as stoking labour row in Macau

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2007, 12:00am

A rally in Macau planned for October 1 could snowball into a large-scale labour protest after a lawmaker and a leading unionist expressed fears that a relaxation of travel restrictions on Guangdong residents would see some work in the city illegally.

Guangdong police confirmed yesterday that visa restrictions put in place following a May 1 protest to prevent mainlanders working illegally in Hong Kong and Macau had been eased this month because of a backlog of applications.

A spokeswoman for the Guangdong Public Security Bureau's exit and entry administration department said the changes meant mainlanders could once again apply for a combined visa for travel to Hong Kong and Macau - a system criticised as being open to abuse since people seeking to work illegally in Macau could enter via Hong Kong.

'From this month, people who want to visit Hong Kong and Macau need to fill out just one form. Before that, they needed to fill out two forms: one for Hong Kong, another for Macau,' the spokeswoman said.

But the combined travel document allows mainland tourists to visit Hong Kong twice during the visa's one-year validity period and Macau only once, she said.

'To travel to Macau, people have to make a new application every time they plan to visit,' she said. 'I guess it is aimed at preventing people from gambling or working illegally in Macau.'

However, Macau Confederation of Trade Unions secretary-general Ho Hing-kwok and lawmaker Jose Coutinho feared the easing of restrictions would open the system to abuse.

Any influx of illegal workers via Hong Kong would add further heat to the discontent simmering among labourers following a week in which Labour Affairs Director Shuen Ka-hung has been dogged by a scandal involving the hiring of illegal mainland workers.

Six such workers renovating a luxury private residence in Taipa were arrested this month. A week later, the local press revealed the residence was owned by Dr Shuen.

The Macau government released a statement last week saying the workers had been hired by a subcontractor and the matter would be handled appropriately.

Mr Coutinho said a large-scale labour protest was now a 'big possibility', and Mr Ho said it was likely that any influx of illegal workers, along with the Shuen scandal, would become additional themes to the rally, originally proposed by the Macau Motorcycle Trade Association.

Commentator Larry So Man-yum, who teaches at the Polytechnic University of Macau, said the travel restrictions introduced earlier led to a drop in mainland visitors, which had affected small businesses.