Sunday 20 October 2013

Job ads: What's fair and what's not

Fair employment watchdog puts up examples to provide greater clarity
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 19 Oct 2013

YOU can ask for only Singaporeans, but not Singaporeans and permanent residents.

You can welcome older workers, but not fresh graduates.

A list illustrating what is and isn't acceptable in job advertisements was put up on the website of Singapore's fair employment watchdog last week.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) said it did this to provide greater clarity to employers and help them comply with existing guidelines on fair employment.

"During TAFEP's regular engagement with employers and administrators of job portals, we have observed that there is a demand for clear and detailed advice on acceptable phrasing in job advertisements," said a spokesman.

The guidelines set out principles, but the list on TAFEP's website has more detailed examples.

For instance, the guidelines state: "Words or phrases that exclude Singaporeans or indicate preference for non-Singaporeans should not be used in job advertisements."

This could be incorrectly interpreted to mean that as long as Singaporeans are among the workers preferred, the job ad is fine.

But as the list on TAFEP's website makes clear, unacceptable phrases include "Singaporeans and Filipinos (or other nationalities)" and "Singaporeans and SPRs (Singapore permanent residents) only".

Bosses should also avoid stating preferences for age, race, language, gender, marital status and religion.

But they can say that a job is suitable for older workers, in support of efforts to improve job opportunities for this group.

Ms Wee Swee San, who handles job ads for restaurant Dan Ryan's Chicago Grill, said the examples were helpful as firms might not realise what phrasings count as problematic.

"We've heard about (fair hiring practices) on the news, but it wasn't so clear on what was allowed," she said. But publishers of ads, such as newspapers and job sites, also have a responsibility to advise advertisers, she added.

Ya Kun International executive chairman Adrin Loi noted that this was being done by some job ad platforms.

The move comes amid greater scrutiny of hiring practices.

Last month, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that it had taken action against 10 firms over discriminatory job ads.

The firms have been asked to take down the ads and their work pass privileges are being withheld while the ministry investigates, a process which is expected to take two weeks.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin shared the MOM's post on his own Facebook page, and added a call for civility as he referred to public responses to the job ads. "Be critical by all means, but be civil," he wrote.

"It is important to not stoke up hate and ill will as some are doing. It does no one any good. It does not reflect the kind of people we are nor the kind of society we aspire to be."

NATIONALITY Unacceptable:
- Non-Singaporeans preferred
- Singaporeans and Malaysians welcome
- Singaporeans and Singapore permanent residents only
- Singaporeans only

LANGUAGE Unacceptable:
- Mandarin is an advantage
- Chinese-language teacher for pre-school centre, good credit in O-level Chinese

AGE Unacceptable:
- Youthful working environment
- Fresh graduates are welcome to apply
- Older workers welcome

1 in 5 complaints received by TAFEP related to race, language, religion
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Oct 2013

One in five complaints handled by the national body to promote fair employment practices is related to race, language or religion.

The Tripartite Alliance of Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) says this is a relatively small number, but it does point to the need to get more employers aware of their obligations towards responsible hiring.

One of the real cases that TAFEP has had to deal with involved a job advertisement by a private school that indicated preference for a particular race and language.

It says it has received almost 500 complaints in total from 2012 till June this year.

Of these, about one in five were related to race, language or religion, and this number has held steady over the past three years.

But dealing with these cases is not straight forward.

Upon receiving a complaint, TAFEP will contact the employer to find out what happened, and if necessary, it will help the employer come up with guidelines to adopt responsible employment practices.

If the employer is found to be discriminatory, they would be advised to rectify their actions.

Often, it boils down to the attitude of individuals, like that of supervisors or human resource staff tasked with hiring, as related by one 26-year-old Singaporean who went for a job interview.

Sharifah Hana Alhadad, a Singaporean researcher, said: "The interview went really well. They were very impressed with my experiences and they looked at my name (and) they said ‘Oh your name, where is that from?’ I told them that well, I'm from here and they said ‘Oh are you a Muslim?’ And I said yes, and they said ‘Well, you (don’t) look Muslim,’ and I said ‘Well, how does a Muslim look (like)?’”

Ms Sharifah was then told that her religion might pose a problem as the job required her to work with Chinese families in the community.

A study on indicators of racial and religious harmony in Singapore released recently by the Institute of Policy Studies and showed that of the more than 3,000 people polled, 20 per cent of Malays and 18 per cent of Indians said they often, very often or always feel discriminated when it came to applying for a job.

Only four per cent of Chinese feel that way.

And when it is about being considered for a job promotion, 17 per cent of Malays and 18 per cent of Indians say they often, very often or always feel racially discriminated against.

That is compared to only four per cent of Chinese.

More than a third of respondents also feel that Malays and Indians have to work harder than other races to reach top positions in their organisations.

Compare this to only 16 per cent of respondents of Chinese Singaporeans who feel the same.

Dr Mathew Mathews, research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, said: "The perception of their (respondents) discrimination is very subjective. People make those conclusions based on what they experienced."

Those that Channel NewsAsia spoke with expressed hope that race becomes less of an issue as Singapore matures as a society and as the Singaporean identity takes shape.

But observers added that perceptions will always be there and that is why it is especially crucial to have responsible and enlightened employers.

Bob Tan, co-chairperson for TAFEP, said: "The important thing is not to let the biases project itself into hiring practices by the company, so companies have to make sure they have a well-articulated value systems and also hiring practices that do not discriminate so the individual bias itself does not project… out. They have to follow certain processes and procedures so they have the best people for the job.”

Ms Sharifah said: "I think Singapore has matured as a nation and it can do without inter-racial institutionalisation and instead, we should look… into building the national identity, the Singaporean identity because at the moment now there is no one Singaporean identity, it's fragmented.

“There's a Singaporean Malay identity, there's a Singaporean Chinese identity, a Singaporean Indian identity but what about the Singapore identity, what identity is that?”

When asked if tougher laws are needed, TAFEP said it prefers its current approach.

Mr Tan explained: "Even with laws, people will circumvent the laws. If you want to discriminate, you will discriminate despite the laws. But if you look at the number of cases in Singapore, it's relatively small. So what is important is not… to hunt down the small number of cases where there is discrimination but really to try and create greater awareness among the population at large.

“And through this, we can create a work environment where everybody feels comfortable with each other. Everybody's looking for the best and those companies which don't practice it, they'll find that they won't have good people coming to them.

“I think that's a far better way of doing it. It's not that we have such a serious problem that we have to use laws. It's far better to use education, which is what TAFEP is doing.”

The good news is the number of companies that have signed the Employers' Pledge of Fair Employment Practices has gone up ten-fold over the past 7 years, from 287 in 2006 to 2,342 to date. 

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