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Malaysia – Discrimination making job hunting more difficult

19 September 2013

The Malaysian job market has become more competitive over the past few years with more people having the same kind of qualifications. The increased competition is making it more difficult for job seekers to get employment, and increasing discrimination is making the situation more difficult, according to The Star Online.

Many online staffing companies have created guidelines and vetting systems, which prevents employers from adding discriminatory requirements in their advertisements. MyStarJobs’ online recruitment system, for example, does not allow advertisers to specify if they prefer male or female job applicants, or any specific age range for any hiring.

Head of MyStarJobs, Serm Teck Choon advised the Jakarta Post that they work together with various parties; such as TalentCorp, to ensure diversified opportunity can be found on their sites. "We have many initiatives such as working with TalentCorp to encourage companies to offer flexible working arrangement and such project is in line with our belief that diversity in workplace should be encouraged.”

Despite such efforts, the choice of who to call for interview still lies with the companies themselves and there is little more that the online staffing companies can do.

Recently, a posting by a Facebook user claimed that she could not get a temporary job as a sales person in retail outlets because she wears a hijab (long headscarf) or tudung (shorter headscarf).

The post, in which the author claimed that she never felt as disgraced even when she was living in Muslim minority countries for several years, was shared by many who shared similar experiences.

A Facebook user, who only wanted to be known as Aleen, said that it was not only in the retail industry that such discrimination existed. “I studied a media-related course and have been looking for a job related to what I studied for. Unfortunately, I was rejected by many companies because I wear a hijab, which they said will not look good when you have to dress in corporate clothing,” she said, adding that she was even told by some companies that she might get a job if she was willing to get rid of the hijab.

Aleen said that she applied for jobs in public relations industry and hotels for the most part.

Most companies that The Star Online contacted for their article, however, refused to be quoted but said that the wearing of hijab was never an issue.

Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners president Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman said that in the hotel industry, such discrimination did not exist. “I do not see the problem. It is just attire, which I am sure the foreigners and other customers are used to seeing on Malaysian women. I have not heard of such incidents, at least not in the hotel line.”

He added that other forms of discriminations including racial, gender and age discrimination are also discouraged. “I think the industry is quite diversified and discriminations in any form does not come into play.”

Despite these assurances, a study conducted by University Malaya senior lecturer in development studies department Lee Hwok Aun and the National University of Malaysia research fellow Muhammed Abdul Khalid, showed that racial discrimination, at least, is very much prevalent in the private sector.

Stating that they were only able to conduct the study in the private sector, Lee said that, as expected, the results that showed that Chinese applicants had an upper hand.

Lee said that the experiment was done, as many opinions made from anecdotal evidence, personal experience or hearsay. “I wanted to step back and examine the issue empirically and credibly.”

The study involved the distribution of resumes of fictitious Malay and Chinese candidates to real job advertisers and comparing the number of call backs candidates of each race got.

Lee said: “We ensured that the Malay and Chinese applicants in our pool were similarly qualified. We controlled for quality, in the way that experiments isolate the effect of the determinant in focus by controlling for – in other words, taking away – the effects of other determinants.”

When questioned on why only two races were chosen for the experiment, Lee said that the predominant images of labour market discrimination that form in [Malaysian] minds pits Chinese-owned private sector businesses against Malay graduates, and also a Malay dominated public sector against the non-Malay workforce.

He added that the researchers faced practical difficulties as they had considered including other groups; such as preparing larger number of resumes, which in turn would require more manpower to process.

The result of the experiment showed that in private sectors, race mattered.

Lee said: “Chinese applicants are much more likely than Malay applicants to be called for interview. Quality also matters, but much less so.”

He added that some skills; such as proficiency in Chinese dialects increased the chances of Malay applicants but not by much.

He added: “This research just examines discrimination in selection for interview, not the job offer stage, let alone employment and promotion, which impact further on our economy and society. Investigating discrimination at those levels is controversial and difficult, if not impossible, since it will involve research assistants posing in person as job candidates.”

Lee said that although the experiment did not answer the burning question of why such discrimination occurs, it was a starting point.

“Perhaps some employers expect Malay applicants to not socially fit into the company and hence do not bother calling them for interview, or perhaps they feel a need and justification for private sector to counterweight the pro-Malay policies in the public sector.”

“We cannot confidently evaluate these arguments without further study. Emphatically, we must not be hasty to blame the discrimination we detect on malevolent motives and racial stereotyping, prejudice or bigotry,” he said.

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