Age discrimination in tenders for guards

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 8, 2013

SOME government agencies have put out recent tenders setting limits on the age of security guards to be hired, even though this is in clear violation of anti-discrimination hiring guidelines.

Most of the agencies capped the age of guards at 55, below the statutory retirement age of 62.

They have since rectified what they said was an "oversight" and stressed that the tenders eventually did not stop them from hiring workers older than the age limit.

Last December, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) awarded a $704,000 security services contract for its headquarters in Scotts Road. It stated in the contract that guards deployed by its contractor should not be older than 55 years. Supervisors have to be below 50. In January this year, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) signed a $64,000 deal with a security firm to guard the Singapore Aviation Academy. The age ceiling for guards was 45.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is currently looking to hire a firm to guard the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Secretariat and Asia-Europe Foundation buildings near Pasir Panjang Road. It put out a tender last month stating that the security firm has to hire guards between 25 and 55 years of age.

The Straits Times also found a junior college which wanted to hire only guards younger than 55, and a primary school that capped the age of its guards at 60.

The fair employment watchdog, Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep), said such age caps clearly go against guidelines that prohibit discrimination against workers in any industry on the basis of their age or nationality.

It added that recruitment should be based on merit, saying: "Age should therefore not be used as a proxy for physical attributes, or for making assumptions about the suitability of certain work environments for older employees. Firms should not make such discriminatory requests."

Last week, two firms apologised online for discriminatory job advertisements looking for people of specific foreign nationalities.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin also pledged to tackle such types of discrimination during last month's Budget debate.

The latest spate of discriminatory tenders comes barely two years after two other government agencies - JTC Corporation and the National Research Foundation - pledged to stop age discrimination when hiring security guards.

MEWR and MFA were unaware of their oversight in setting the age cap until The Straits Times pointed it out to them last week.

MEWR explained that the age clause was "an oversight carried forward from previous contract documents". "It should not have been included and we will rectify the oversight immediately," said its spokesman.

MFA said it reused an old tender document with a statutory retirement age of 55. It has removed the age ceiling for the latest tender and apologised for it, saying: "Our practice has strictly adhered to the statutory age limit."

Meanwhile, CAAS clarified that the age limit for its security contractor was "meant as a guide only". It promised to amend such specifications in its documents.

The Education Ministry also pledged to remind schools not to set age caps for security guards.

The police require guards aged 60 or above to pass annual medical tests. There is no age ceiling for when guards must stop working. There are nearly 66,000 licensed unarmed security guards here, but the police declined to say how old they are.

On the ministries' oversight, Mr Zainudin Nordin, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, said: "If there was an oversight, things must still be put right so that it is fair to older workers. Workers must be assessed based on their capabilities and abilities and the requirements of the job, not age."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 8, 2013

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