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Employment Act Must Protect Job Seekers from Discrimination

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) urges the government to protect job seekers from discrimination — by amending the Employment Act 1955, Sabah Labour Ordinance, and Sarawak Labour Ordinance.

In September 2018, the Ministry of Human Resources proposed amending the Employment Act to protect job seekers and employees from discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, disability, marital status, pregnancy and language.

However, at the Ministry’s public open day on 6 August 2019, WAO learnt that the ministry plans to exclude job seekers from the anti-discrimination provision.

We are extremely concerned by this exclusion as it would significantly weaken the anti-discrimination provision, negatively affecting thousands of job-seekers each year. Thus, we urge the Ministry to reinstate job seekers into the provision.

Additionally, we learnt that the Ministry is considering putting the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination — i.e., gender, religion, race, disability, etc. — in a separate regulation rather than in the actual Employment Act.

We urge the Ministry to keep the list of prohibited grounds within the Employment Act, as the prohibited grounds are substantive issues. Moreover, the Act is more permanent than regulations, which are, in contrast, merely procedural.

Discrimination during recruitment is prevalent

It is crucial to include job seekers in anti-discrimination laws, as discrimination often happens during recruitment.

About 40 per cent of women surveyed said that they had been asked by interviewers if they were pregnant or had plans to become pregnant, according to a WAO survey.

There has also been cases where hotels have banned frontline staff from wearing the tudung. Such discrimination would occur during recruitment, as a Muslim woman wearing a tudung to an interview would not be hired.

Studies and media stories also highlight various forms of discrimination based on race and other factors, in job postings and during interviews.

In such cases, discriminated job seekers would have no legal redress — unless the Ministry includes them in the proposed anti-discrimination provision.

Would anti-discrimination laws restrict employers and compromise merit?

Some may argue that employers have the right to hire whoever they want and that anti-discrimination laws would compromise merit.

In actual fact, anti-discrimination laws help ensure that employees are hired based on their credentials — rather than due to bias.

A study by researchers at Cornell University, for example, found that mothers are perceived to be less competent and committed than women without children — even when they have similar credentials. This means that bias causes employers to overlook many talented job applicants.

Additionally, the proposed anti-discrimination provision by the Ministry also has an exception that allows an employer to hire one applicant over another, if the applicant has a characteristic that is an “inherent requirement” of the job.

For example, if a job requires an employee to speak a certain language, then it would not be discriminatory to hire an employee based on their fluency in that language. The employer must, however, prove that fluency in that language is an “inherent requirement” of the job.

Employment Act for employees only?

Another argument against protecting job seekers from discrimination is that the scope of the Employment Act only covers employers and employees — and not prospective employees.

This, however, is a circular argument, as there is no reason why the Employment Act cannot be amended to also include prospective employees.

In fact, it is absurd for a law on employment to not cover those seeking employment.

Many countries protect job seekers from discrimination

Laws protecting job seekers from discrimination are common in other countries.

For example, Japan, South Korea, Australia, the United States, Canada, and South Africa have employment laws that prohibit various forms of discrimination during both recruitment and employment.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom have anti-discrimination laws that protect job seekers and employees from various forms of discrimination.

Malaysia should follow suit and ensure that job seekers are also protected from discrimination.

The Minister of Human Resources, YB M. Kulasegaran said last Friday that the Ministry is keen to consult all stakeholders on the Employment Act. We welcome the Minister’s statement and look forward to further engaging the Ministry.

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Akta Kerja Wajib Lindungi Pemohon Kerja daripada Diskriminasi 

Pertubuhan Pertolongan Wanita (WAO) menggesa kerajaan untuk melindungi pemohon kerja daripada diskriminasi – dengan meminda Akta Kerja 1955, Ordinan Buruh Sabah dan Ordinan Buruh Sarawak.

Pada September 2018, Kementerian Sumber Manusia mencadangkan agar pindaan dibuat pada Akta Kerja bagi melindungi pemohon kerja dan pekerja daripada diskriminasi atas dasar gender, agama, kaum, kelainan upaya, status kahwin, wanita mengandung dan bahasa pertuturan.

Akan tetapi, sewaktu hari terbuka yang dianjurkan Kementerian pada 6 Ogos 2019, WAO difahamkan bahawa Kementerian akan menyisihkan pemohon kerja daripada peruntukan antidiskriminasi tersebut.

Kami amat bimbang sekiranya penyisihan ini diteruskan kerana ia akan menjadikannya suatu peruntukan antidiskriminasi yang lemah, sekali gus, memberi kesan negatif kepada beribu-ribu pemohon kerja setiap tahun. Justeru, kami menggesa pihak Kementerian untuk memasukkan kembali istilah pemohon kerja ke dalam peruntukan tersebut.

Selain itu, kami turut difahamkan bahawa pihak Kementerian mungkin memasukkan senarai faktor diskriminasi – gender, agama, kaum, kelainan upaya dll. – ke dalam peraturan berasingan dan memisahkannya daripada Akta Kerja itu sendiri.

Sekali lagi, kami menggesa pihak Kementerian agar mengekalkan senarai faktor diskriminasi tersebut dalam Akta Kerja kerana akta sifatnya lebih kekal dan kukuh berbanding peraturan yang berbentuk prosedur.

Diskriminasi sewaktu pengambilan kerja berleluasa

Amat penting agar pemohon kerja dilindungi oleh undang-undang antidiskriminasi kerana diskriminasi kerap berlaku sewaktu fasa pengambilan kerja.

Dalam hal ini, kira-kira 40% wanita yang ditinjau melaporkan mereka disoal oleh penemu duga sama ada mereka sedang mengandung atau merancang untuk mengandung, begitu menurut kaji selidik WAO.

Malah, terdapat juga kes yang melaporkan hotel mengenakan larangan bertudung terhadap pekerja wanita di bahagian menyambut tetamu. Diskriminasi seumpama ini kerap berlaku ketika fasa pengambilan pekerja, kerana wanita Islam yang memakai tudung sewaktu temu duga tidak diterima bekerja.

Kaji selidik dan pelbagai kisah yang dipaparkan di media turut mengetengahkan bermacam-macam bentuk diskriminasi atas dasar perkauman dan faktor lain semasa pengiklanan kerja dan fasa temu duga.

Dalam hal ini, pemohon kerja yang didiskriminasi langsung tidak dapat menuntut keadilan—melainkan pihak Kementerian memasukkan istilah pemohon kerja ke dalam peruntukan antidiskriminasi yang bakal dipinda.

Benarkah undang-undang antidiskriminasi menyekat hak majikan dan menjejaskan merit pekerja?

Mungkin ada sesetengah pihak berpendapat bahawa majikan berhak memilih sesiapa sahaja yang mereka suka dan undang-undang antidiskriminasi hanya akan menjejaskan merit pekerja yang mereka ambil.

Namun hakikatnya, undang-undang antidiskriminasi inilah yang dapat memastikan bahawa pekerja diambil berdasarkan kelayakan mereka, dan bukan atas dasar prejudis atau berat sebelah.

Sebagai contoh, kajian oleh penyelidik di Cornell University mendapati bahawa kaum ibu sering dianggap kurang kompeten dan komited berbanding wanita tanpa anak – walaupun mereka mempunyai kelayakan yang sama. Hal ini bererti, diskriminasi oleh majikan terhadap kaum ibu menyebabkan ramai wanita berpotensi tinggi diketepikan.

Lagi pula, peruntukan antidiskriminasi yang dicadangkan Kementerian membenarkan pengecualian kepada majikan untuk memprioritikan seseorang pemohon kerja sekiranya beliau mempunyai ciri yang diperlukan secara khusus oleh pekerjaan tersebut.

Sebagai contoh, jika kerja yang dipohon mewajarkan kefasihan dalam suatu bahasa, maka pengambilan pekerja berdasarkan kriteria tersebut tidaklah dianggap diskriminatori. Akan tetapi, majikan perlu membuktikan bahawa kefasihan bahasa tersebut merupakan suatu ‘ciri khusus’ bagi pekerjaan yang dimaksudkan.

Akta Kerja untuk pekerja semata-mata?

Hujah lain yang menyanggah perlindungan Akta ini kepada pemohon kerja ialah skop Akta Kerja yang dikatakan merangkumi pekerja dan majikan semata-mata – dan bukan bakal pekerja.

Hujah ini tidak munasabah. Mengapa tidak Akta Kerja dipinda untuk merangkumi bakal pekerja?
Bahkan, suatu yang tidak masuk akal untuk menyatakan bahawa undang-undang pekerjaan tidak melindungi golongan yang memohon pekerjaan.

Banyak negara lain lindungi pemohon kerja daripada diskriminasi

Kewujudan undang-undang yang melindungi pemohon kerja sudah menjadi perkara biasa di negara-negara lain.

Sebagai contoh, Jepun, Korea Selatan, Australia, Amerika Syarikat, Kanada dan Afrika Selatan semuanya mempunyai undang-undang kerja yang melarang pelbagai bentuk diskriminasi sepanjang fasa permohonan kerja dan ketika menjadi pekerja.

Sementara itu, Hong Kong dan United Kingdom juga mempunyai undang-undang antidiskriminasi khusus bagi melindungi pemohon kerja dan pekerja daripada bermacam-macam bentuk diskriminasi.

Oleh hal yang demikian, Malaysia sepatutnya mengambil langkah positif bagi memastikan pemohon kerja dilindungi daripada semua bentuk diskriminasi.

Jumaat lepas, Menteri Sumber Manusia, YB M. Kulasegaran menyebut bahawa pihak Kementeriannya mahu berbincang dengan semua pihak berkepentingan dalam isu pindaan Akta Kerja ini. Kami amat berbesar hati dan menyambut mesra hasrat untuk berbincang selanjutnya dengan pihak Kementerian berkenaan hal ini.

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