Race-Bias Discriminatory Hiring Practices Exist In Singapore?
Written by: Gilbert Goh
Lately, I have being wondering if there is any race-bias discriminatory hiring practices in Singapore – its a sensitive topic but one that certainly needs addressing.
I can’t feel it as a Chinese but some comments made by the minority races in socio-political blog site on discriminatory hiring practices have kept me thinking.
To it’s credit, our government has always promote hiring based on merit with no particular race to receive any special consideration. Though this seems ideal, what happens on the ground may prove otherwise.
Mr Shafie in his article Jobseeker Account Of A Day At The Job Fair commented:-
“I narrowed down those companies which did not specify ethnicity and age as their selection criteria. I also ensure that I would be eligible for the vacancies based on my qualification and skillsets. In all fairness, there are other companies that did not employ based on race but they were looking for newly-minted graduates.”
To reiterate my concern, another netizen going by the moniker Bungkus commented in one of my articles: “I am a Singaporean and I used to live in Perth for two years. I am now an immigrant in Canada. I am a Malay facing so much discrimination for jobs from the Chinese Singaporeans in Singapore. Even with 3 degrees, I could not get me a small time job in Singapore.” His story however could not be verified.
Mr Shafie’s statement has particularly struck a chord within me as being someone from the majority race, I have never really bother to check if the employer is hiring based on any race preference.
Hiring based on race alone, abeit done subtlely, is seriously wrong and carry grave societal implications especially in our multi-racial diverse society.
The minority races will feel sidelined and discriminated against and if this is allowed to continue unaddressed, may bring forth widespread social disharmony within the general population. Already, we have heard widespread stories of how a large contingent of our Malay community has migrated to Perth due to a lack of employment opportunities in Singapore. This allegation is however unverified.
Over time, large-scale discriminatory hiring may also develop into sectoral employment – a potent situation whereby certain jobs will be performed by specific groups of the population. In a worse case scenario, this may degenerate into a certain race controlling specific sector of the economy resulting in serious long-term adverse repercussions for the country.
We have also witnessed recently how social polarization has erupted into civil unrest in Xinjiang, China when the Chinese-native population began to migrate there amass and took over the economy of the Muslim-dominated province. Prices of basic necessities were jacked up by these Chinese-dominated businessmen resulting in widespread unhappiness among the Muslim population.
It is apparent that when one particular race takes over the economy in a multi-racial society, there is always the danger of social disharmony as a result of widening income disparity and mismatched expectations.
More worrying, we have seen how our Muslim and Indian minority community have continued to lag behind the Chinese community in our country:-
|Households income from work by ethnic group of head|
|Ethnic group||Average household
It will be inappropriate however to link this income disparity to solely race-based discriminatory hiring practices even though this trend may have existed for a long time.
Other factors such as educational qualifications and the right skillsets are also crucial factors that will influence the employability opportunities of our minority races.
Minority Races Felt Marginalised?
The fact that Mr Shafie bothers to do a special check on discriminatory hiring before he ventured into looking for work at the job fair makes me wonder if the minority races have all along felt sidelined and more disturbingly marganilised when it comes to seeking re-employment especially from our Chinese-dominated business employers.
A random check on our online employment websites revealed some disturbing trend. I realized that certain groups of employers have stated that they preferred “Mandarin speaking candidates only” or “Chinese working environment”. Does this constitutes racist hiring practices?
I guess for someone from the minorities race like Mr Shafie, the criterion of “Mandarin speaking candidates only” must have meant zero employment opportunities for him as he only speaks Malay and English.
This is probably one big reason why we heard of the non-Mandarin speaking community registering for Mandarin classes in droves in the hope of enhancing their re-employment chances when the need arises.
This is understandable as most small and medium (SME) businesses are operated by our local Chinese community. They will prefer to employ Chinese-speaking crew members if it’s a Chinese eatery or a business that particularly handles only Chinese customers.
However, strangely, I have heard from a local Chinese friend that he is a minority worker in a Indian-owned foreign company that hires mostly Indian professionals.
Moreover, the Indians that work there are mostly foreign professionals with Employment Pass work permit. He happens to be one of the three non-Indian local staff that works in the company with a staff strength of around fifty employees.
It is not surprising to find people of the same race wanting to work alongside one another. There is this cultural understanding and bond which people from another race will not be able to identify with. Many companies will specifically employ the same race if given a choice especially so if their target customers are mainly from that particular race. It makes sense to hire an Indian professional to handle the accounts if most of their customers orginate from India.
Reasons for Discriminatory Hiring
Employers, who advertise for positions specifying a preferential race, have wisely state their reasons for doing so. For example, some may state on the advertisement that they can only employ non-Malays as their work involves handling food materials which are not halal. Others specify that they need their workers to speak Mandarin so they can only hire Chinese workers which seem fair on the surface. However, if this is allowed to go on as a common practice, the situation may degenerate into blatant discriminatory hiring practices.
I have also heard that some non-Chinese candidates were rejected by potential employers even though they spoke good Mandarin. No reasons were given on why they were not selected. One suspects that some employers may use the “Mandarin speaking only” excuse to hire selectively so that they will not get into trouble.
To be fair, Singapore employers as a whole have all along being very non-prejudiced in the way they hire workers. They are more concerned with whether the person they hire can do the job than paying specific attention on his race.
Moreover, our authorities are very strict when it comes to discriminatory hiring base on race alone due to the multi-racial makeup of our population.
The Ministry of Manpower webpage has adocated the following five guiding principles for fair employment practices (source: www.mom.gov.sg):-
- Recruit and select employees on the basis of merit (such as skills, experience or ability to perform the job), and regardless of age, race, gender, religion, family status or disability.
- Treat employees fairly and with respect and implement progressive human resource management systems.
- Provide employees with equal opportunity to be considered for training and development based on their strengths and needs, to help them achieve their full potential.
- Reward employees fairly based on their ability, performance, contribution and experience.
- Abide by labour laws and adopt Tripartite Guidelines which promote fair employment practices.
So far, we have not heard of anyone from the minority race going public on a case of race-bias discriminatory hiring. However, we could hear them occasionally on socio-political blogs ranting away and blaming our Chinese employers for being discriminating against the minorities race.
Discriminatory Hiring Prevalent Worldwide
In a research done recently by the Australian National University on discriminatory hiring practices based on a jobseeker’s race, they found that applicants with Chinese names fared the worst, having only a one-in-five chance of getting asked in for interviews, compared to applicants with Anglo-Saxon names whose chances exceeded one-in-three (source: thebigchair.com.au).
Typically a Chinese-named applicant would need to put in 68 per cent more applications than an Anglo-named applicant to get the same number of calls back. A Middle Eastern-named applicant needed 64 per cent more, an indigenous-named applicant 35 per cent more and an Italian-named applicant 12 per cent more.
In another classic racial bias case in the United States last year, a federal judge has given final approval to a $17.5 million settlement of a discrimination lawsuit that accused Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of not hiring black truck drivers.
Members in the class-action suit applied to drive for Wal-Mart between 2001 and 2008 and were turned away in disproportional numbers. Of the approximately 4,500 plaintiffs, those that applied earliest stand to receive the greatest settlement payments (source: www.msnbc.msn.com).
All this shows that race-bias hiring is prevalent in many societies where there are different races living together and competing for jobs. The best man may not win here if you don’t belong to a certain race.
So does race-bias discriminatory hiring exists in Singapore?
You bet it does as so long there are different racial groups living together, there will always be the preference to hire someone of a similar race based more on personal and cultural preference than anything else.
Many employers will do so because of work-related reasons like food handling difficulties for certain minorities race and specific languages required at work.
There will unfortunately be the few who will discriminate against certain races and hire their own kind because they have personal deep-seated prejudices against other races.
I feel that our minority races should be more concerned about the competition posed by foreign workers than employers practising race-bias hiring at the job front.
Employers still remain the king here as our government has allowed globalisation to flourish in our economy and that means more foreign workers will be allowed in our country to compete for jobs with the local population.
The minorities race should also take heart that many jobless people from the predominant Chinese community have faced intense re-employment challenges due to structural changes in our economy.
The more serious problem for our country to tackle now is to properly manage the challenges faced by a rapidly ageing workforce that possessed skill-sets that were obselete and useless for the new economy.
NB: I apologise if this article has offended some people here. Please write to me personally and I will offer my sincere apology to you.Number of View: 11061