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Thursday March 30th 2017

Race-Bias Discriminatory Hiring Practices Exist In Singapore?

  

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
income
(SGD$)
Median household
income
(SGD$)
1990 2000 1990 2000
Total 3,076 4,943 2,296 3,607
Chinese 3,213 5,219 2,400 3,848
Malays 2,246 3,148 1,880 2,708
Indians 2,859 4,556 2,174 3,387
Others 3,885 7,250 2,782 4,775

Source: Singapore Department of Statistics. [8]

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):-

  1. 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.
  2. Treat employees fairly and with respect and implement progressive human resource management systems.
  3. 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.
  4. Reward employees fairly based on their ability, performance, contribution and experience.
  5. 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

Australia,  which is a far more polarised society than us, has  obvious hiring discriminatory practices  made worse by the huge immigrant intake during the past decade.

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Reader Feedback

18 Responses to “Race-Bias Discriminatory Hiring Practices Exist In Singapore?”

  1. Desiree says:

    I found your article honest and insightful. :)

  2. Sharky says:

    Hi Gilbert,
    I have to comment from the viewpoint of a Malay.

    Though the Chinese majority will deny it, in Singapore we have institutionalised marginalisation of the minorities, such as the SAP schools, housing racial quota, CDAC, SINDA and Mendaki on top of no equal opportunities at certain jobs, to name a few. And it was only in the 80s, Malays who once served in for the British army but eventually kicked out in favour of Chinese recruits, were allowed to serve their country again.

    Everytime, such matter is brought up, the Chinese majority will compare abuses and discrimination their brethen faces in Malaysia and Indonesia. Or if we bring up the matter of the rights of the Malays as an indigenous people in our constitution, the Chinese majority will claim the Malays are not the true natives of Singapore.

    So I guess, with such emotional baggage that the Chinese majority in Singapore carries, the victims have become the abusers.

    It does not help when our govt. plays the racial card during election. And keep questioning the loyalty of the Singaporean Malay.

    So, you should not be surprised when the minorities employ their own kind, because they know, they would not be given an equal opportunity by most of the ‘Chinese-minded’ companies in Singapore.

    As long as the Chinese majority and the current ruling party carries that emotional baggage and live in fear of the Malays, on top of feeling okay as long as their bread and butter is not affected, the minorities will continue to be marginalised and discriminated with the shadow support of the current ruling party.

    I hope the below long will enlighten you more:
    1. http://yoursdp.org/index.php/news/singapore/3336-lee-kuan-yews-remarks-deeply-offensive-to-malays
    2. http://yoursdp.org/index.php/the-party/young-democrats/3691-how-pap-policies-affected-malay-singaporeans
    3. http://yoursdp.org/index.php/news/singapore/3644-discrimination-in-singapore-is-institutionalised

  3. Suzanne says:

    I am a Malay professional and I have in many occasions been subjected to such discrimination in Singapore. It was only after I have graduated that I realised the stark ugly reality of it all. Meetings were held in Mandarin where speaking Mandarin wasnt the pre-requisite of the job. In one ocassion, the interviewer blantantly said that she wanted a chinese. I am now residing in Australia and working in an American MNC NYSE company that values diversity and merit. I have made big sacrifices to be apart from my family and culture-I still feel pretty sore about this. Singapore does not promote fair game. If speaking mandarin is so important, then the government should have enforce every one child (all races) to speak and learn Mandarin. It shouldnt mis-led us on the importance of English but turned a blind eye on “We want Mandarin Speaking” as an excuse to get their own kind and as such, marginalised the abled minority. If you wish to get my stories verified, I am happy to provide you my details. My personal email address is eekz13@hotmail.com. Keep in touch as I am looking forward to improve the situation back home, even from afar.

    • Sasha says:

      Hai Suzanne, you just wrote everything what I’m going trough right now AND
      I’m Malaysian Indian. But I’m optimistic about my future and looking for a company where diversity and merit are valued, and promotes cosmopolitan culture.

  4. Tim says:

    As a Singaporean Eurasian, I have to say it isn’t a bed of roses for some people in the ‘Others’ category either. (There HAS to be some level of discrimination when you don’t even have your own category. LOL)

    While I have seen friends of mine from minority races struggle somewhat to get jobs that my Chinese friends seem to get rather easily, I do not think it has much to do with racism. Racism exists everywhere, as acknowledged in the article. But it’s the lack of Government legislation that expressly prohibits employers from not hiring someone based on racial, lingual or cultural bias that is the root of the problem. The reason why most of us minority Singaporeans put up with it, is that there are a wealth of jobs in the Civil Service that many gladly take (some albeit reluctantly).

    All multi-racial and multi-cultural countries need discrimination laws to ensure an even playing field for everyone. But hey, the words ‘fair’ and ‘just’ are rarely heard in Singapore’s political sphere.

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  9. blinking blinks says:

    Not so strange reading the comments, how true what they say.

    I have a primary school chinese friend and keep close contact since we were in the same class in primary 5. You could say that I was his mentor. So I could say that I am better in school. Though good at school does not neccessarily relates to good at work, so I won’t compare. As I start work life, I realised that there is no hope for Malays and did not wish to further my studies. While my chinese friend saw every good in getting a degree and even borrowed from me some money for his exam fees.

    During the time before the foreign invasion and before the job market was not doing well, I always complain to my chinese friend of my difficulty of getting a new job. And my chinese friend also wonder why it is so difficult when he can job hop so easily and get pay increment so easily.

    Even while holding a job, I am very dissapointed by the level of competency and technical skils of my superiors and chinese colleagues. I am not generalising that all chinese professional are not up to standard, I am just saying that how come they can get the job with so little skill set in all areas so easily, while for me who luckily got chance to be exposed to so many environment and empowered with so much knowledge but not utilised. I can’t even speak to them at the same level without offending them. Just because what I will say showed how much little technical skills they have compare to my level of knowledge and it really will demean them to whom I suppose to seek for clarification and knowledge. Technical knowledge are facts which you don’t plug off the air and say out of feelings. Technical facts are actual items which you know by long reading and research or based on long history of working experience.

    Imagine you have so many ideas to improve your department, and improve the work level of all your colleagues, but with mere cultural upbringing of this “asian” society, things cannot improve. Every Asian country have an “asian” problem. If you say Malaysia has an “asian” problem, or China have an “asian” problem. So does Singapore too.

    As some other forum comments I read in this site. Probably the foreigner invasion is the karma against the bigotry treatment we had as minorities

    To note also on some of those rejected by a job merely of race. It is better for you not to accept that job, else you will suffer much worst in that environment. If you can secluse yourself and build an island for yourself but perform well in your job, then its okay, but in most instances we need to relate to other people whom will not want to deal with you. I once worked with a very old chinese man. He told me very frankly without hesistant. He said that there are two types of chinese people. One very good and one very bad. Make sure you work with the good one.

    Now in the present situation where more chinese workers will be unemployed and displaced by foreigners, with combination of both large number of unemployed chinese and unemployed foreigner who will be competing for the same job; for local minorities, my advise to learn how to eat grass or get out of here.

  10. Ben says:

    I am a 59 years old male Chinese Singaporean & I would certainly agree that discrimination exists in Singapore.

    The most obvious ones are racial & age discrimination. It’s common to see job advertisements with ‘mandarin speaking only’ requirement. They will justify it further by saying that employees need to communicate with mandarin speaking clients.

    On the other hand, the Post-War babies (regardless of race) like me in the age group of fifties & sixties are having problem in getting a job, especially with competition from cheaper & younger foreigners. This is spite of the fact that I look younger than my age (hair still black & no health problem). Applying for jobs by emails is a complete waste of time. Going for walk-in interviews require more effort but it is still a complete waste of time. They will have no choice but to go through the motion of interviewing you. They will never get back to you. After a while, you become very skillful in filtering job advertisements. Unfortunately, the more skillful you get, the number of job applications become almost nil. This is more so if you are not a Chinese. I have always been aware of that.

    Even though employers are not supposed to be discriminatory in job advertisements, there are ways to get round it. Before the influx of ‘foreign talents’, the quality of life (excluding the elites) in Singapore was getting more difficult. Instead of making life better, the flood gate was opened to more foreigners. Now the older & sometimes even the younger Singaporeans are facing intense competition.

    All the above problems can be minimized by using more humane & appropriate governance. The average Singaporeans struggling for a living do not care about impressive economic statistics. These are for the elites, whose values in life are measured in millions & billions. We have reached a point where there is enough in our reserves for us to go a bit slower. Slow down the flow of foreigners, especially the S-pass holders. Most Singaporeans are not asking for handouts, we just need a job. The last thing we need is to go to our MPs & beg for money & assistance.

    The recent two elections have confirmed a new voting trend against the PAP ways of doing things. The momentum has been set. Things can only get better.

  11. fromzero says:

    Bollicks!
    I am Chinese, in my fifties, and I can’t speak mandarin.
    For the past thirty odd years, I have accepted that as an employment setback in a predominant chinese-speaking/chinese-thinking business world here. I tried, but never get to acquire the lanquage, probably because I’m dyslexic.
    So other than going to anglo-saxon countries which allow a level playing-field for the English-speaking, I opted to stay and seek my career opportunities with western companies here.
    It is not about race here, it’s about competencies.
    Look at those Indians and Chinese retailers over at geylang serai, don’t they all speak malay? And how common is it to hear a Malay speaking in mandarin or tamil here in s’pore?. In Malaysia, all the other races speak bahasa malaysia because the majority are Malays; and everyone else understand that to speak the language there it is necessary for livelihood.
    SO DON”T USE RACE AS AN EXCUSE FOR FAILIURE HERE PLEASE.

  12. “Men are April when they woo, December when they wed. Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.”

  13. Phil says:

    Excellent insight. I found your article after reading a 2015 Straits Times. I was surprised by the number of jobs that specified Singaporean only, or similar restrictive racial indicators. I work in a team of 21 people in Australia where we have 13 different races. Sure we don’t always see eye to eye, but we do get on pretty well and we can handle most languages. I very much enjoy the diversity we have, and the food selection at morning tea breaks can be very entertaining. Some day all workplaces will be like this, but I would very very upset to see us specifying one race before another.

  14. JD says:

    The situation is worse for Indian Singaporean men. I entered teaching because I couldn’t get an engineering job. And I saw the same dicrimination done by MOE no less. Most the tail-end classes of Normal Academic and Normal Technical classes were given to Indian Singaporean teachers. A disproportionate number of heads are chinese and during ranking minority races in schools with large chinese heads suffer. I left MOE because of this. And then left that fucking racially sophiscated marginalising country. I have 2 malay friends who graduated from NUS Physics and can’t get a job for 2 years. THey are now hoping to do a PhD in the local unis here and then left for good.

  15. usha says:

    There is definitely blatant discrimination in the Singapore workforce. I know many friends who migrated due to lack of opportunities. Personally, even in my area of work where mandarin is not a required language, I have seen ads that state ‘Mandarin speaking preferred.’ where the employer means ‘Chinese race preferred.’ If the govt was sincere about ‘meritocracy’ then they have to do sth about discriminatory job ads.That is the point about the Singapore govt. they are really hypocritical. they say one thing but let injustice continue. its better to be self-employed in today’s challenging environment -if u can.

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