Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Continuing on discrimination or prejudice? Business or racism?

Was on the road while doing the earlier posting.

If the comments in this blog here, Rocky Bru here and Economics Malaysia here is indicative of the public reaction to the conclusion from the study, the effort and conclusion by the two researchers, one Chinese and another Malay may seemed in vain.

The general tendency of commentators was to get into political blame game and not towards acknowledgement of the problem so that we can move forward.

It is sad for anyone to be discriminated by virtue of their race at the start of their economic life and the basic human rights of employment. All our life we were advised to study hard in order to improve our life.

If the past excuse was that Malays were not capable, the study showed Chinese with lower grade and Chinese speaking fair higher chance of getting a callback. This is only a callback, not even past the obstacles of interview, job confirmation, salary increment, bonuses, incentives, promotions etc.

It is not even entrepreneurship, doing businesses, contracts, distributive trade, SME, etc.

Expecting government?

Continuing where we left off, whether it is discrimination from identification of race or prejudice arising from generalisation or stereotyping, do we need government intervention to legislate a law or draw up a public policy to address this discriminatory practices?

Naturally, it will need correct and effective implementation, control and monitoring and some form of punitive actions.

With the pace of government, particularly slacking in term of enforcement and tendency of Malay leaders to get cold feet, can such effort get the public cooperation and achieve desired results? Unless such actions bring about a desired benefits, it could be merely temporary and cosmetics.

For a fact, it is difficult to distinguish the difference between business objective and free market at work against intended discrimination or racism. This could lead to the question whether business and free market are merely a front or excuse to justify racism or biasness.

The failure of past affirmative actions could have been as a result of these kind of market unfriendly practices that is the stumbling block. In addressing socio-economic imbalances amongst race, positive discrimination policies was used.

It had invited criticism of racism, thus the resistance and sabotages to it's implementation. .

However on that score, calling government's past affirmative action policies as discriminatory may not be considered fair. The result and effect of that positive discrimination was not beneficial to the Malays. Perhaps the Malays were not smart or too nice, but they were surely not ready.

Ideally, it is society that should frown against any form of discriminatory practices to deter continuation of such injustice. Unless so, society can't encourage academic achievement, real talent and ability be rewarded accordingly and fairly.

Changing Attitude

Two e-mails from friends are worth sharing.

Abu Bakar (not his real name), a self-made businessmen, gave his honest down to earth view of the situation and  appreciate the Chinese businessmen point of view. He views the Malay has to take take charge of their future.

While another is a semi-retired corporate lady and headed an MNC in Malaysia. Zabariah (also not her real name) understood what was going on but prefer the Malay to be positive attitude and  take charge of their destiny than grumble over the obvious discrimination.

She views it as:
Discrimination is real. Melayu has only one way out of this. 
Change the attitude. Show more determination, create more opportunities sendiri,  break the wall, break the monopoly, improve on education, pick up more skills, i.e. change the rules of the game. 
Tolong bangsa sendiri. Berbangga jadi melayu. 

No more excuse for not wanting to go further in educating their children. Kalau India estet boleh buat takde sebab melayu kampung ketinggalan. Kalau Cina bukit bermati matian cari duit nak sekolahkan anak, jadi hawker etc etc, takde sebab melayu tak boleh sekolahkan anak dan menjadi hebat. 
Buat sendiri opportunity. Change the Attitude.
Abu Bakar concluded that:
What I really want to say bukan sahaja the Chinese Masters prefer to hire their own people, the Powers That Be also are comfortable to be their partners. Kekayaan Melayu is not economic success but rather a pathetic payout. 
Selagi the Malay SMErs belum menjadi budaya hidup Melayu, segala usaha untuk bersaing dengan peniaga Cina adalah usaha yang sia2.... bagai menggantang asap, mengukir langit. 

Zabariah knows how the discrimination works:
The baseline is the Chinese will hire their own people first. If they are the HR guys, then any Malays called for interview would be more of tokenism. They will hire Malays for the lower level jobs, the ones that can be shouted at.

If its MNC, they would be getting advice from the Korn Ferry and Hayes type of organisation which are almost always controlled by non-Malays. 
Most expat CEOs already have a negative view of the Malays long before they set foot in Malaysia. Their regional offices usually based in Hong Kong or Singapore would have given their opinion on the Malay workforce.
As the research described in its early part, there were other studies showing discriminatory practices against Malays. A 1980 study by Snodgrass confirmed Zabariah's experiance that companies headed by Chinese would not normally employ Malays.

NEP master builders, Faarland, Parkinson and Dr Rais released a study in 2003 which shows the income of Bumiputera as 32% lower than Chinese. This is after controlling for differences in education, experience, industry, and occupation.

In a similar study, Milanovic (2006) could not explain the premium of about 20%-40% on wages and earnings for the Chinese, despite having similar characteristics as the Bumiputera. Discrimination due to race?

World Bank studies by CMI in 2005 found non-Chinese are being prevented from entering the private labour market, and those who participated in it are being discriminated against by being denied advancement and lower wages or earnings.

Thus far most other studies quoted involved Malays, but heard it is worse in Sabah and more so in Sarawak. It is more "brutal" with job ad outrightly mentioned to the effect that "non-Chinese need not apply."

All along the Chinese have been claiming discrimination in getting jobs in government sector, army, police etc. But why would they grumble over such low paying jobs when they can get better pay and such preference in the larger and more vibrant private sector?

Why would they complain over public projects when they are the recipients of the bulk of product and services supporting the main contractors and constructors to enable such projects to get going?

Recently, a Chinese businessmen friend we met recently said he is a contractor and own a Bumiputera license company. What appears to be Bumiputera companies are also actually Chinese owned companies.

Another case of failed implementation of public policy or rebalancing the social injustice from the positive discrimination?


As a businessmen and naturally a do-er, Abu Bakar's view strongly that:
The Chinese employers are just looking to hire better employees. Secara adat, the Chinese are more hardworking, better in communications and fast learners. Overall, they're more complete employees. Senang to work with.

Melayu pulak are a pampered lot. Terlampau banyak nak jaga hati and expectations. Low to medium performance and limited in skills especially sales and communications skills.

Itu realitinya. The Chinese employers are not race biased. They are just being practical. Everything equal, better hire Chinese because they have that extra ooomph. Their entepreneurship nature will propel them to be better workers and to take on any assignment so that they can learn the business.

I have long time ago admitted that the Chinese are just better than the Malays. To compete with them, I have to work harder, think smarter and have the right attitude. Without this, the business will kaput because the Chinese are really really tough competitors. 
But if we are good, we will gain their respect.
He further believed that:
The Chinese are really good. In business, they are masters. I cannot come out with a reason why they should hire Melayu. Skillwise Melayu are way behind. Language, culture and values (world and religion), we are poles apart.  
Why should a Fish Towkey, a Food Distributor or a Factory Owner hire Melayu except of course lah for menial and clerical jobs. Not the critical functions like Sales, Factory Manager or Finance.  
Are they wrong to practise discriminatory employment? They are not GLCs! Melayu can do the same... bukak bisnes sendiri and be the masters. Mengapa melukut di tepi gantang!! 
Selagi Melayu malas berniaga, selagi itu Peniaga Cina berkuasa. Siapa sahaja boleh ditawani mereka. 
And he goes on sharing few examples and with explicit details which is not necessary to release, of how Chinese were good at getting influential Malays as partners. He is not talking of any Tan Sri, Datin and Dato.

New Malay?

But let no one get the wrong impression of Abu Bakar. He is a business builder and not some quick buck artist who moves asset in and out of public listed companies. He has the right pedigree from both father and mother side, but he shunned it after learning from some early business experience. His long lost cousins, Najib, Nizam, Johari, Nazim, and Nizam could take notice of him.

Abu Bakar could if he wanted but he did not want to. He could do the easy logical thing any MARA officer envy to do and just tag on to some Chinese businessman but he decide not to.

His company is 100% Malay. He said, "I do it not because Melayu are excellent workers. I do it because of bangsa. I am 100% biased to my bangsa. To me, race matters. In a nutshell, I am a Malay racist (?) because the Malays need help.

"My job is to change their mentality from being a pampared and pemalas race to a true efficient, productive and multi-skilled workers. Tak senang. A lot of nurturing required tapi something yang aku suka buat."

He encouraged his good employee to own shares or even open up a new company. He teaches them the reality of business and make them appreciate the difficulty of eking out a profit during the early formative period. After surviving the difficult period, he imbue them with values as to not be cocky, arrogant and 'tuhan' (CAT).

In his loudness to be that guiding light for Bumiputera entrepreneur aspirant, he made an ironic  claim he is teaching them not to be a "Malay." He believes that one need to throw away the common negative characteristics associated as "Malay"ness in order to be successful.

For everyone his own and Abu Bakar is doing his part in a small agenda in the world of SME and in an agenda government lacks the political will to pursue.

Zabariah left a cosy corporate job in an MNC and was leading an industry committee with the Government in relation to her profession, She used to be on the Board of one of those Malay agency.

Currently, she is pursuing a retail business for the fun of trying to break-in into a traditional Chinese monopoly retail industry.  This former CEO is willing to start from the very bottom and rising up at 3 to 4 in the morning to learn the rope of her new trade.

Both Abu Bakar and Zabariah are willing to get her hands dirty. Are the Malays willing to get their hands dirty by creating the opportunity for themselves rather than depend on the benefit of others effort?

* updated and edited 6/11/2012 9:20 PM


Anonymous said...

It difficult to get young chinese like their elderly. Now day young chinese is also like Malays Malas dan tak tahu., They just follow instruction. You gave A they do A , you gave B they do B. It a headace for current chinese business man to employ chinese moreover Malays who cant communicate well plus chinese too. It no more like the old days where chinese is preferable due to their capability. In this world today only the dynamic Chinese, Indian and Malays will suceed. Forget about discrimination. Why are Chinese making noise to penetrate the goverment jobs. It due to unemployement and also it challenging in the private sectors especially global company who only hired dynanmic people regardless of race. Of course if for China market ther prefer Chinse since Malays not able to speak Chinese and our education systems is backwards. They forget or delibrately missed out to ensure English and Mandarins as compulsory languages in tandem with the changes on economic market. Also it convenient for Kedai Kopi Ah Pek to employ Chinese rather than Malays unless it a Halal kedai kopi.

Anonymous said...

Very inspiring with deep insights. Hope the relevant authorities read this and get hold of them!!

Anonymous said...


Letter to the Editor — Lee Hwok Aun and Muhammed Abdul Khalid
November 06, 2012
NOV 6 — Dear Sir

Your headline, “Malaysian employers practise racial bigotry, study shows” (November 2nd, 2012), grossly misrepresents our study. It is unfortunate that you projected a sensationalised, emotive and reckless headline that vastly deviates from our objective, methodical and dispassionate work.

The article is based on an abstract of our study, and fairly accurately conveys our main findings and conclusions. The article even notes that “they said their data does not directly show the moti[ve] of the racial discrimination in the hiring process based on the experiment they had conducted.”

And yet you have made motive the focal point of the headline, giving a completely false impression of our study. Nowhere in our abstract, nor even in the article, is bigotry mentioned. To insert “bigotry” in the headline is irresponsible and unacceptable.

Furthermore, the Bahasa translation of the same article, “Majikan di Malaysia lebih berminat mengambil pekerja Cina berbanding Melayu”, reasonably captures the crux of our study. How could the headlines of identical articles be worlds apart? We raised strong objections to the headline of the original English article, which appeared before we presented our seminar. Have those objections been implicitly acknowledged in the publication of the Bahasa translation? If the Bahasa headline can be made precise, why can’t the English headline be amended accordingly?

We have conducted and publicised our research to bring about a more informed and level-headed understanding of a very contentious and difficult subject. We urge you to report our findings and generate public debate in a manner that accurately represents our work.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Hwok Aun

Muhammed Abdul Khalid

* Note: The Malaysian Insider stands by the headline of the story in question.

My Say