Ethnic discrimination in private sector more subtle

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The Association for Community and Dialogue is concerned about the statement made by the MCA women’s wing chief Heng Seai Kie to the press on employment practices.

She said the private sector does its recruitment based on merit because of its profit-driven nature. According to her, the selection criteria for recruitment is based on specific job requirements, which surpass racial and religious considerations. Only the most qualified individual will be given the job. Such a practice has always been transparent and fair. In this context, the perceived lower ratio of Indians employed in the private sector should not be racialised. It is a matter of capability, personal interest, choice and individual competition, which has nothing to do with ethnic preferences.

Her statement came about after the Centre for Governance and Political Studies came out with a recent job study on ethnic discrimination in the private sector and the subsequent response by P Waytha Moorthy the minister of unity.

How did MCA women chief come up to such a conclusion? Had she done a survey of her own, or was she just speculating? Coming up with such sweeping statement will not dilute the truth that ethnic discrimination is real in the public and private sector.

While the ethnic composition of employees is clearly seen in the public sector due to its nature of public interaction, the discrimination in the private sector is less known or subtle. Only those who work there are able to testify if there is ethnic discrimination.

Having work as a human resources professional in the manufacturing and service industry, I have seen how bosses want people of their own kin in critical positions such as accounting, purchasing, IT and maintenance.

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It is not just about recruitment. There is salary differentiation for the same job done by individuals of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, when I was working in the manufacturing sector, I noticed there was a different rate of salaries for lorry drivers from two different ethnic backgrounds doing similar jobs.

One boss told me that those from a certain ethnic group were few in the job market and due to this, their salaries were higher. It was unfortunate he used the supply and demand theory to come up with such a conclusion. This is against Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, which emphasises equality which also means equal opportunities in seeking jobs.

There were times when I went to the Labour Office to look for candidates and found out that those who were jobless were mainly Malay and Indian Malaysians.

In any survey methodology, there could be errors. What is important is to have a proper survey, where disputing parties should come together and agree on a comprehensive methodology that would honestly seek the truth.

It is important for decision-makers not to play politics but to comprehend the nature of ethnic discrimination, which has its roots in the ethno-centric political and socio-economic order in the country.

To resolve this problem, the government must set up an equal opportunities commission by legislation. This will complement the proposed amendment to labour laws on discrimination in employment practices being proposed by the Ministry of Human Resources Ministry.

An equal opportunities commission will also ensure that grievances about ethnic discrimination in recruitment practices and internal equity issues are brought to the right channels. In fact the Pakatan Harapan manifesto clearly addresses the need for an equal opportunities commission.

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While setting up of such a commission would be progressive, it needs political and administrative support to sustain it. It would require a major cultural shift in the political mindset of politicians, the business establishment and non-governmental organisations so that a person’s capability is not narrowed down to his or her ethnic background.

Ethnicity is about a common cultural identity, but it does not represent the total identity of a person. The ability to perform at work and build bridges of solidarity for the common good is where one’s authentic spiritual identity is found, and that goes beyond ethno-cultural identity. In other words, the true identity of person is about his or her potential and ability and not about race.

Unless Malaysians are prepared for such a major shift in thinking, ethnic discriminatory practices will continue to rear their ugly head.

The MCA women’s wing chief’s statement does not address these issues. It rather reflects a simplistic understanding that profit-driven companies are only focused on merit in employment practices.

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