Groups, politicians voice concern over racial bias in private sector hiring

A survey by the Centre for Governance and Political Studies has found that Malay and Indian job-seekers are likely to face discrimination in the private sector.

PETALING JAYA: Labour groups and politicians have voiced disappointment over racial discrimination in the hiring of talent, following a survey which indicated that Malays and Indians are more likely to experience discrimination when applying for jobs in the private sector.

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) president Abdul Halim Mansor said racial discrimination in the workforce had been going on for decades.

He said this could be because those in the top management preferred staff who spoke the same dialects as them.

He was commenting on a survey by the Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS) which found that male and female Chinese candidates obtained considerably more job callbacks than their Malay and Indian peers combined.

The researchers for the survey posed as applicants from all three major ethnic groups with the same qualifications and other criteria which would make them prime candidates.

“There is one bank in Malaysia where, if you walk in, you will only see employees of one race. To me, this is the problem when we as a society don’t emphasise enough the usage of the national language,” Halim said.

He said companies should ensure there was a sufficient balance of races, focus on performance and embrace greater use of the national language.

The Malaysian Employers Federation described the findings of the survey as “very disturbing” and called on employers to move away from racial bias and identify as Malaysians first.

“When you look at the structure of companies, not many are owned by Malays and Indians, and this is the reality which contributes to the situation,” it said.

But Simon Si, a consultant for training and recruitment company GET Matrix Academy, said it was difficult to conclude from the survey that there was discrimination because of a lack of data, including the race of the human resources personnel who would decide which candidate would be called for an interview

Si said it was not in the best interest of companies to discriminate against candidates based on race or religion as they would want the best candidate for the job.

“Companies want to make profits, so they will want the person who can perform.”

He said assuming there was discrimination based on the survey’s findings, a likely possibility was that the person deciding who to call back made a decision based on past experience.

“It is likely that for a certain role, they found that in the past, certain people might have performed better. Whether people think this is right or wrong, I believe this is what is happening.”

DAP’s Charles Santiago said that discrimination was not just happening in the job market but in the rental of homes as well.

“I think as a nation, we have not grown to see each other as part of a larger family. We use racial lenses to evaluate everything we do, from where we shop to who we offer jobs to and who we allow to rent our homes,” the Klang MP said.

He called for an equal opportunity law like those in other countries to address the matter.

“So if you apply for a job and despite having very good qualifications, do not get a callback, you could lodge a report with the authorities, who will then investigate to see if the company had unfairly ignored your application.”

The companies which flouted the law would then be fined.

“Society must realise they will lose out in the end if they do not value meritocracy. Just because someone is of the same race or religion, it does not guarantee good character or that they are the best person for the job,” he said.

Umno Youth vice-chief Shahril Hamdan said a comprehensive plan for civic education based on shared values that cut across racial and community concerns was needed to tackle the problem.

“If we have this going for us, then it will be easier to argue for some form of employment legislation that actively bars discrimination in hiring on these grounds,” he said.

MCA president Wee Ka Siong urged employers not to generalise that certain races were better or worse at performing a certain job.

“We cannot racially profile people. Any shortcomings a person may have or even their language proficiency has nothing to do with race.

“Job-seekers who meet the requirements for a certain job should be given the chance to be interviewed so that they can be properly evaluated,” he said.