Condo managing agent flagged for discriminatory hiring

Clauses in its tender for security services show race, age bias, says security association

The managing agent of Hillview Heights condominium has been flagged by the Security Association Singapore for discrimination against non-Mandarin speakers and older workers in its tender for security services.

In a Facebook post and statement to the press on Monday, the association highlighted the clauses of the tender by Savills Property Management which stipulate that a security agency must provide a "Chinese-speaking" security guard for more than six shifts each month, with those who speak dia-lects acceptable.

Penalties for not complying include a warning letter and a deduction of $100 per shift.

The security agency could also be fined $100 if the guard provided is not within the age range of 21 to 60.

The tender, which lasts a year - from Nov 1 this year to Oct 31 next year - closed last Friday.

The security association said that while there were other clauses that were of concern, it shared these particular ones "because they appear to penalise security agencies unless they exercise discrimination in their hiring and deployment of security officers".

The statement said Mandarin and dialects are not the same, adding: "So what exactly is the job requirement here?"

It said: "Furthermore, for a Singapore condominium, is it a reasonable requirement for a Chinese-speaking officer to be deployed at all times? It appears that the intention is for an ethnically Chinese officer to be deployed on a frequent basis at the condominium. This would be race discrimination."

As for the age limit, the association pointed out that there is nothing in the tender document that indicates the basis on which the management would give or withhold its approval to deploy a guard. "It appears there is just an intention for older workers not to be deployed at the site," it said.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for Savills said: "This is an unfortunate situation created by historical tender documentation language from 2000. We sincerely apologise for any confusion caused and have taken steps to ensure all tender documentation reflects current Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices."

The company added that it has been "invited by the Singapore Police Force to introduce outcome-based contracts and will be reviewing the terms and conditions for our clients' approval".

Outcome-based contracts focus on expected outputs and outcomes rather than manpower needs.

Savills would also welcome dialogue between the Security Association Singapore and the Association of Strata Managers "to ensure we are all aligned in the future".

The Security Association Singapore said it would raise the matter with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices as well as the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

It also highlighted a "gap in the law", where "managing agents like Savills and service buyers like Hillview Heights may be able to get away with forcing service providers like security agencies to carry out discriminatory practices".

The association said it raised this with MOM last year and urged that the ministry's guidelines on fair employment be extended to buyers of outsourced services. Currently, the guidelines apply only to employers.

It also responded to Savills' statement, saying: "It is timely that Savills is now reviewing the wording of its contracts from 2000. We will also be happy to engage Savills in constructive dialogue to address this problem and to assist them to craft fair security contracts."

The association's executive director Ikhsan Suri added: "Security Association Singapore will continue to keep a lookout for unfair clauses in tenders and contracts, and highlight them as needed."

Labour MP Desmond Choo and Mr Steve Tan, executive secretary of the Union of Security Employees, agreed that requirements for a specific race or age are discriminatory.

"Hiring should always be based on competency but, as a system, we are not there yet," said Mr Choo. "Most infringements are poor human resource practices to be remedied, but there are egregious practices that must be dealt with firmly."

He said the Hillview Heights incident is "an example of why we need an enhanced workplace fairness framework to deal with archaic and misguided practices".

"It allows companies to improve, while still allowing firm laws to deal with the most egregious of cases."

Referring to a "copy-paste job" of outdated tender documentation, as in the case of Savills, Mr Tan said "past practices are not the best way to guide buyers".

He said buyers, or managing agents, should assess their security needs, install the necessary technology and then hire manpower to leverage the technology.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2021, with the headline 'Condo managing agent flagged for discriminatory hiring'. Subscribe