Support Site for The Unemployed & Underemployed
Thursday January 24th 2019

Employers Still Discriminating Against Older Workers


This article was first posted here on 30 Mar 2009.

Written by Gilbert Goh

Having met more than a dozen unemployed Singaporeans either through my unemployment support site or my own personal contacts, I observed that there are two main issues that frustrate them.

One is the huge influx of foreigners into our labour force during the past few years and the other is the age bias in seeking employment that seems to have gotten worse recently.

A weekend visit to Han’s restaurant at Harbourfront shocked me as the four staff working there were all Filipinos. From the person that took my order to the cashier and chefs, they were all foreigners happily going about their jobs. The only thing that stood them out from the former Han’s staff that I had seen previously, was the age difference. All of them appeared to be in their twenties. I found myself paying for my order grudgingly.

Are mature Singaporeans not able to fill such positions even if they were much older and were a little slower? Must employers continue to fill in service positions with foreigners while claiming that locals refuse to work longer hours for miserable pay? Are all the employers’ complaints valid? I am sure that for every Singaporean’s refusal to work at such service jobs, there should be another who do not mind such work. This is especially so in this time of economic downturn. Let us not generalise and condemn the working attitude of Singaporeans just because of a few black sheep.

I share the sentiments of the unemployed on both concerns. At the age of 47, I too face mammoth pressure in securing employment in a hiring practice that borders on discriminatory.

Some employment agents have told me in private that employers continue to look at candidates below the age of 35 years old. Some unemployed who responded to advertisements for face to face interviews were often rejected when they revealed that their age is above 40.

If you called in a recruiter and said that you are 40 years old, they would reply that they want someone below 40 years old. If you called in and said that you are 38, they will reply that they prefer someone below 35 instead!

Our labour hiring laws do seem to allow such discriminatory employment practices to prevail. Amazingly, employers seem to get away with such archaic third-world hiring practices in a first world, developed country.

Many I spoke to lamented that they have nowhere to turn to now as they face massive obstacle in being rehired due to their age (40-50 years old). Many who are able are seriously considering the idea of applying for emigration to countries such as Australia or Canada – countries which have strong laws against age-bias hiring practices. I do not blame them for taking such a drastic move because if you cannot find employment in your own country, due to your age, then it makes sense to venture abroad where there is at least some legal protection against discriminatory hiring.

The Aussies have very strong anti-discriminatory hiring practices. When a jobseeker send in his resume, he can choose not to accompany it with his address, race, gender, age, religion and photograph. The employers only decide to interview the candidate based on his working experience and qualification.

As Singapore continues to grapple with the severe downturn and an ageing workforce, let us hope that the government will tighten hiring practices so that our local workers will be able to face the future with confidence and, most importantly, pride.

Number of View: 4363

Reader Feedback

7 Responses to “Employers Still Discriminating Against Older Workers”

  1. [...] Employers Still Discriminating Against Older Workers [...]

  2. Ben says:

    I’m 55 yrs of age….I know what you mean.

    It’s happened even when the economy is good. A few years ago, I was so desperate that I called to inquire about a factory operator job, even though I have ‘O’ levels and IT literate. They usually asked
    two questions:- 1) Are you a Singaporean? 2)How old are you? When I told them about my age, they said they are looking for people below 35 yrs of age and ‘click!’…..that was the end of the phone interview. The whole process lasted about 8 seconds.

    Fast forward to today….in the middle(or the beginning?) of a bad recession. I’ve send hundreds of emails but received no reply. As for walk-in interviews, they always say that they’ll get back to me. Again, they never. The Government can try to regulate the advertisements but ultimately, it’s up to the
    employer. The advertisements may not specify age, race or gender but if you’re above 45 yrs of age, you’ll be wasting your time if you walk in. Sometime, we have to travel from one end of the island to
    the other by public transport and it may cost us about 3 hrs, all for nothing.

    Could it be that I look very repulsive? No, I don’t think so. Just to dispel the fear that I might be so, let me mention (blush…blush) that I was quite a ladies’ man during my younger days! Now, my hair
    is still black and I’m not balding. I have zero health problem in spite of my age (touch wood). My dressing style is neat & conservative(even though I was quite a hippie during the early seventies).

    In the old days, we have Singaporean Ah Sohs & Ah Pehs working in food courts. These days, it seems that they driven to extinction. Instead, we usually see young & female Chinese Nationals. I thought our Government encourages Singaporeans to work as long as they are fit? I don’t think the older Singaporeans don’t want to work. It’s just that there’s no way to complete with the young foreigners for a few obvious reasons.

    Most of the people in my parents’ generation are illiterate and they’re willing to do menial work. Nothing wrong with that, my mother used to be a cleaner at a food court. What I’m trying to say is that a lot of people from the post-war baby boom(my generation) are highly educated. Most of them should be at least in their late forties. If they still need a job in the days ahead, they’re in for a hard time. What a waste of local talent.

    Oh, one more thing…which I feel is quite relevant to this topic. Recently, I was making my way to a community centre for a job fair. There seems to be a couple of thousand of people moving towards the C.C. Suddenly, I was surrounded by Filipinos, who are also making their way there. Obviously, they’re Singapore PRs. Strangely, I felt a sense of loneliness at that point of time.

  3. Compile a list, bypass them says:

    I always thought if it might help, if the names of obvious errant employers be made known, and let the public decide if they want to condone and patronise these companies for such discriminating hiring practices?

    If it’s government, bypass their masters in elections, haha.

    Some preliminary checks may be conducted before “listing” these businesses, just like what SGX would do….

    Another “crazy” thought of mine: like minded/situations discriminated candidates forming competing businesses(ie. If feasible, viable) against these businesses. Use their experiences to “prove” them wrong…this probably need some legal advices and government endorsements. Again use your votes to make things happen….need critical mass to move things, so please collaborate!

  4. Sin says:

    Well, I could see from a employer and a employee side of view.

    As a employer, would you like to see your staffs working 5 days per week, 3 days late, 2 days MC, and excepting a 7 days salaries? Plus, have to go back on time, or even better if they can knock off early.

    Weather too hot, cannot go out. Seems to be raining soon, cannot go out. Location too far, cannot go, and etc, etc.

    Well, trust me.. a lot of locals have this kind of attitude.

    As a employee, i am very pissed off to see those foreigners are getting higher pay but same position and does the same things.

    Regards to Singapore workforce nowadays. I seriously got a shock when i am seeing filippinos everywhere. In fashion boutiques, hotels, operators, customer services, F&B.

    Whats happening? Suddenly, i don’t feel like i am in Singapore anymore, i don’t feel home anymore. But what can the employers do when no Singaporeans wanna take up those positions.

    For example, some fresh graduates.. couldn’t get a job that they want. They rather stay at home do nothing for long time instead of getting a temporary job. Others is like what i mentioned in the earlier part.

    So, who is there to be blame? employers who keep employing FT/FW? employees who are so picky and attitude? governments who educated us to be this way? or the society that changed everything?

  5. Edmund says:

    As reported in the news, Tafep was launched in 2006 by the Ministry of Manpower, NTUC and Singapore National Employers Federation to promote fair employment practices. However, it does not have the legal clout to act against discriminatory complaints & relies on persuasion to get employers’ compliance. Both employers & the foreign workers in our midst must be laughing at how toothless & useless Tafep is! Companies now know for sure that it is open season on helpless S’porean PMEs above the age of 40. God help us older workers.

  6. Edmund Khoo says:

    Open your eyes wide when you are walking along Raffles Place/Shenton Way on any given weekday. You will see scores of Caucasians, Filipinos, Indian and Chinese nationals enjoying the good life gainfully employed as PMEs. Take another walk in our HDB estates on any given weekday afternoon, and you will see scores of unemployed S’porean PMEs at the coffeeshops, hawker centres or fetching their children from schools, dressed casually. S’poreans have been displaced by foreigners because of the bloody govt’s open door Trojan Horse policy!

  7. sal says:

    Vote for the party that come out with good policies that helps it citizens…

Leave a Reply