Forms of tolerated discrimination in the workplace

The report on workplace biases has shed light on some salient problems in the Singapore workplace (Poll: Bias against disabled people, seniors are top issues at work; April 19).

Institutionalised marginalisation may be encountered by contract workers, especially in the manufacturing sector.

Contract workers provide flexibility to organisations in times of fluctuating market demands.

Hiring contract workers helps firms to cut costs when responsible retrenchment is not applicable.

Although labour shortage has also been cited as a reason for the contract-work system, firms can, in fact, use the contract system as a business-relevant cost-reduction strategy for years.

Contract workers also lose out to the other workers in terms of benefits, employment security and career advancement.

The contractual differences weaken the position of such workers, who are treated differently from the other workers.

For instance, their company orientation programmes, relational expectations and treatment from their superiors can be different from the regular workers.

Such clear differentiation can affect morale and productivity.

Institutionalised marginalisation can be intermeshed with issues of ageism.

A company's management might allocate peripheral jobs to older employees whom it employs as contract staff, compared with the more important management jobs which are given to permanent staff as part of talent nurturing.

Such workplace practices are tolerated forms of discrimination, similar to ethnic exclusivity.

The origins of a multinational corporation may strengthen ethnic exclusivity and systems of power favouring the ethnic group of the organisation's founder.

In speech and writing, the categories "locals" and "the other ethnic group" are often used.

It has also become widely accepted for "locals" to be excluded from certain company events, as well as for some activities to be specially organised for the "locals" and some for "non-locals".

The exclusivity may consciously or unconsciously subject "local" staff to power harassment by "non-local" management staff.

Grace Chew Chye Lay (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2018, with the headline 'Forms of tolerated discrimination in the workplace'. Print Edition | Subscribe