Needed – equal opportunity legislation

Ali Cordoba | January 30, 2013
In a cosmopolitan country like ours, such a legislation will go a long way towards achieving the much sought-after developed nation status.
With all the stories of inequalities and injustices in the job sphere in Malaysia, it is time for the country to have its own tools to ensure “equal opportunities” for all. Protecting public interest, among others, should be a valid enough reason to have such a law.
Malaysia needs such laws in place in order to be able to achieve the much sought-after “developed nation” status. In a cosmopolitan country like ours, the question of racism and protectionism inevitably arises.
There has been an increase in racial divisions where the minorities do not get the support and are particularly sidelined in job applications. And we are talking here of specific minorities in a country where there is a huge division of people into various ethnic groups.
This country still practises a certain form of ostracism, putting the needs of the poor and the economically challenged at the lowest tier while a certain class of people are given all the facilities, at times well beyond their needs, though not above their capacity.
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are now multi-million-dollar businesses. What have the authorities done to better the lot of the smaller ones? One aspect of the job search criteria is the obvious racial label, in which the advertiser will indicate whether the company wants “Chinese” or “Malay” employees.
This shows the job in question is for a specific community, but does it mean that the advertiser is a racist or communal organisation? Surely, if the business of the organisation is to deal with a specific community, this type of advertising will be accepted.
Nevertheless, there have been abuses of such criteria by non-communal companies, and this has to stop. Would a Chinese who speaks fluent Malay be offered a job as editor-in-chief of Utusan? Or is it a fact that Utusan is exclusively Malay, hence racist in nature? Can Malaysia afford such a misfortune in its quest to be on par with the Europeans and the US?
In the application for loans, the non-Malays are always victimised, and these are stories that we hear on a regular basis from specific communities. If you are Indian, there is a chance you will get a loan and other financial facilities if you are politically protected. It has nothing to do with merit or need in such applications.
Whereas if you are Malay, there is a plethora of facilities that you may be granted, with the plus point that you may even default on the loans. On the other hand, if you are Chinese, there’s no limit to Chinese bankers and associations in the country who would not support you!
Knowledge-based economy
In building a knowledge-based economy, Malaysia cannot afford to be “racist” and “ethnically” driven. It has to adopt modern yardsticks that will help it achieve its goal of a developed nation status, otherwise it will just be another banana republic.
In other words, Malaysia will be one of those countries with super infrastructures, but the people and the administrators would be mentally challenged. The point is, Malaysia cannot be seen with high-class facilities and a nation depending on information and knowledge, yet still practising racism.
In the years leading up to achieving the “developed nation” status, there will be new spheres in which the country will have to be involved. Malaysia will have to adopt “new growth policies”, which will accompany the recently formulated “new growth theory”.
Some of the basic requirements of this theory is the growing codification of knowledge. Then there is the transmission through communication and computer networks. This has led to the emerging “information society”, and it is today a necessity for “developed” nations.
How will Malaysia reach such a refined level of success if it does not abandon race-based policies? How will it reach the top of the world without providing equal opportunities?
Malaysia must achieve equality in the economic sphere. The authorities must make it mandatory to provide facilities, financial or otherwise, to all citizens of the country. Malaysia will earn the respect of the “developed world” if it sheds the racial tag and moves on to become a modern, united nation. Raising the economic status of the entire nation is a priority, thus the need for an equal opportunity act.
Such an act should ensure that “no employer or prospective employer shall discriminate against another person”. And this should include advertisement of a job, as well as the conduct of interviews. Refusing or deliberately omitting to employ eligible candidates should be punishable by law.
By ensuring that all communities are given opportunities to employment, it will help raise the economic status of the nation in general. Eliminating racially based decisions in determining who get the job is essential.
Codes of conduct
The law should also be strict against employers who discriminate against any employee. This includes conditions at work like occupational safety, health measures, provision of facilities related to or connected with employment.
Furthermore, denying the employee access, or limiting access, to opportunities for advancement, promotion, transfer or training, or to any other benefit, facility or service associated with employment should be made punishable.
Employers should be made to bear the brunt of the law if they deliberately terminate the employment of the employee without validity. The same should apply if they place the employee at a disadvantage in any other manner.
In the recent days, we read about municipal council officers ordering an Indian restaurant not to serve food to Malays. Is the country heading to such forms of discriminations that there is a need for such codes of conduct?
If that is the case, then an equal opportunity act should also deal with such issues. Besides imposing the certification for qualified non-Muslim restaurants, the act should also state that no person who, for payment or otherwise, provides goods, services or facilities, shall discriminate against another person. This is the basis of European, American and Mauritian laws.
The laws must also state that the refusal to provide customers with those goods, services or facilities, including the terms of conditions, should not be biased.
To enforce these bylaws, there is the need for an equal opportunity tribunal. Such a tribunal should be independent of the executive, free to act against any abuses. A special division can be set up to gather evidence of abuses that must be condemned.
The idea is to prevent serious and irreparable damage to a person or category of persons, at the work place, in the quest for economic liberation and for jobs.
Ali Cordoba writes extensively on local politics.

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