Thivakar can’t get a job, or the tale of the Umno think tank

MARCH 14 — Four groups entered a bar to solve Malaysia’s race problems. An eager minister, equally eager men of a fresh opposition think tank, detractors of unsubstantiated claims and a party glad it can question motives. 

Back to them after they are done ordering drinks from their Indian Malaysian bartender.

Let’s mount the inconvenient questions over race and language in the workplace.

Asked. When Malaysia set its language policy at inception, was it meant to be a loose agreement? A sort of “yes, but wink-wink not really,” acquiescence? Which explains how Malay as the national language, and English as the second language turned to mainly a floating — perhaps a fleeting — fancy? The presumed answer is related to the second part.

Verify. Many traditional Chinese businesses support race preferences. It is often engineered through language barriers and then evidenced by language preferences in their operation.  

The workplaces project Chinese, as the many Non-Chinese in them attest to. Which is also the reason why other than Umno and PAS’ power of persuasion, so many Malaysians can relate to the fear of a Chinese agenda whenever the Chinese are in charge. They have experience in Chinese-run organisations.

Of course these Chinese operations mirror government offices which project Malay.

Which is the first defence; “the Malays in power do it as the government, so as business owners we can do it inside our companies.”

Actually, they can’t. Malaysians agreed to a language policy, Malay and then English. Mandarin is not in the menu.

However, that’s not the case in reality. Despite knowledge the language bias denies access and opportunity from inside and outside. Chinese firms set in their old ways are party to wholesale discrimination, in hiring, promotion and work-life quality.

Unfortunately, this is Malaysia, where honesty went AWOL in the Straits of Malacca a long time ago.

Here’s the heart of the matter.

Malaysia has a problem with race in the workplace where even in modern or larger organisation, it rears its ugly head in sections.

To be fair, bigotry troubles all workplaces all over the world, and only the naïve would isolate it to Malaysia.

However, it is rare for a country to possess such pronounced race elements elevated by tacit acceptance of it. And here is where the recent developments enter the conversation lounge.

The four groups drinking their own Kool-Aid, thanks to the barman.

The kindergarten fight

Last month, the Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman spoke out against Mandarin language requirement for automotive jobs. 

The eager Armada chief was against any kind of racism which adversely affected his party’s race group, he just won’t speak out if it was the other way around.

This month, an Umno-linked think tank, Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS), released a study on how ethnic preferences are rife when it comes to picking job interview candidates from CVs. 

The think tank was determined to show how New Malaysia has glass ceilings for Malays. As fresh as they are to being in opposition, they are not that silly as to point to the glass ceilings non-Malays experience, all of them set up by their party.

Subsequently, interested individuals questioned the validity of the methodology, a criticism which sticks even if intuitively Malaysians could sense Cent-GPS' views are valid — though lacking methodological integrity. They rule out the survey even if their gut tells them there’s truth in it.

DAP, the other party in the four-party coalition including Syed Saddiq’s Bersatu Pribumi, suspected the think tank’s motive, meaning it was carrying out a hatchet job for Umno.

[As Umno often downplays DAP’s think tank Research For Social Advancement (Refsa).]

Both minister and opposition operatives have the same concerns, while their opponents have some reservations about their method and intention.

It’s convoluted until Cent-GPS’ rebuttal is brought to light.

In response to accusations from DAP of a “racially charged (read: against Chinese Malaysians) political agenda,” it retorted "...Thivakar (the Indian male) got the worse rate of callbacks."

Who is Thivakar?

Of the seven fictitious personalities in the 3,829 resumes sent to 500 companies by Cent-GPS, a Thivakar Gunasegaran, along with Kavitha Muthusamy received the lowest number of job interview offers.

It is strongly suggested that by being Indian Malaysian by name, they were more likely excluded from selection.

So the Umno lads cling to Thivakar as proof they uphold fairness rather than a race agenda. (As much as DAP refers to its most senior Indian party leader as proof the party is colour-blind.)

It is the tragedy of Malaysia the noticeable minority is paraded to defend the multicultural credentials of our government and private sector.

As it stands, it’s a stalemate. These exchanges among a pseudo-idealist minister, an opportunist think tank, the army of Umno deniers and DAP, about what is real discrimination. They stick to their strengths and refuse to acknowledge their own complicity in the complicated tangle.

Meanwhile, to accentuate their belated sense of fairness, I’d ask Cent-GPS to latch on to the hashtag #WeAreAllThivakar.

The harsh truth

Malaysian companies can’t adopt language barriers. All Malaysians growing up were told that Malay and English are requisites. There is no exemption from Malay. Which is why they are justified to abhor the dominance of other languages in the workplace, private or public.

Specific jobs which require specific language skills must be in all circumstances the exception. It does not matter how many ethnic Chinese there are in a Malaysian firm trading with mainland China, Malaysians inside the firm with no Mandarin can’t be disadvantaged. The firm has to accommodate the fact Malaysians by default speak Malay and English.

Management and other meetings have to be in either in Malay or English. These are the languages of the federation.

To disobey is to go against the spirit of the federation.

Here are some home truths.

Our public and private sectors are rife with discrimination. The permission for some discrimination has morphed into labyrinths of racial intolerance. One wrong is used to justify other wrongs. Now, we can’t measure the mountain of wrongs we’ve permitted.

It’s time to write a new book about race and access.

To overcome is to come clean about the situation, not to stick to old excuses.

To avail solutions without fear of how fairness will treat any of us, including Thivakar.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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