Sunday, 4 March 2007

Discrimination against Singaporean males revisited

I posted previously about this subject. There have been some comments about it. Let me clarify my views.

I'm not saying that such discrimination does not exist, or that I don't understand the motivation for it. Like I've said before, I used to be in a position to make hiring decisions and the thought certainly crossed my mind. (Together with the thoughts that women may take maternity leave and foreigners won't cost me employer's contribution.)

That's simply economic rationality.

But I said that an "enlightened" employer would understand the constraints that Singapore men and women face, constraints imposed by the system, and go beyond such considerations to focus only on what should be the sole consideration: a person's ability to do the job well. And that's what I strove to be enlightened.

After all, if an employer wants to make hiring decisions on the basis of such considerations, where would he/she draw the line? Not hire women because of potential maternity leave (and remember, the Government will reimburse employers for NS call-ups, but employers are not reimbursed for the first 2 months of maternity leave for the first 2 children)? Not hire Singaporeans or PRs to the maximum extent possible (which could well mean not at all for professional positions), because of the savings from not having to pay employers' CPF contributions?

Heck, not allow people to take extended vacations because of the disruption? I certainly would not take a job if the employer tells me that the company policy prohibits extended leave due to the disruption caused, would you?

Every employer needs to be prepared for an employee, however key or specialised his or her role, being unavailable for an extended period, for whatever reason. Let's not forget that the period of NS liability is predictable far in advance, and is shorter than maternity leave.

I disagree with those who would describe as "enlightened" employers who focus only on the bottom-line and decide against hiring Singaporean males solely on the basis of NS liability. That is an economically rational employer, which is not necessarily the same (and certainly isn't to me) as being enlightened.

Yes, we live in the real world, and this NS discrimination issue is a problem, as is evident from various people's comments both on this blog and elsewhere. Obviously we cannot expect all employers to be enlightened. If I didn't think that this issue is a real problem, I would not be considering raising it in Parliament.

But my reference to an "enlightened" employer was a normative concept (what employers should be like), and not a positive concept (what employers are really like). So I hope this post clarifies my views.

And finally, re Mr Wang's comment about how my private practice experience is irrelevant: my reference to private practice was to the practice of reducing billable targets to account for time spent out of the office due to NS liability. It was not a generic reference to the prevalence or otherwise of discrimination against NSmen. Furthermore, I was not asked that question when I was interviewed for my current in-house position which could be filled by a non-Singaporean lawyer as well, and my predecessor did have NS liability. So I'm not sure that the fact that the legal profession is protected really has that much to do with anything.


lost said...

It is true that there is more to consider in hiring a person than merely the costs involved, but assuming you don't really shine out - that in presentation, you look similar enough to the foreign talent. There would still be the disadvantage then, because you lose out in terms of cost price.

PanzerGrenadier said...

"Every employer needs to be prepared for an employee, however key or specialised his or her role, being unavailable for an extended period, for whatever reason. Let's not forget that the period of NS liability is predictable far in advance, and is shorter than maternity leave."

I agree with you on that. Smart economically rationale employers would be prepared by preferring to hire non-Singaporean male NS-liability tagged citizens to AVOID facing this unavailability. That is the crux of NS discriminating, an employer who is weighing pure economic pros and cons, given 2 candidates with similar qualifications and experience would tend to act from economic interest NOT to hire Singaporean male citizens.

You compared maternity leave to NS liability. Unless working women choose to have 10 children in their working lifetimes, an NS man typically has to serve 7 high-key ICTs and 3 low-keys to discharge his liability. The 7 high-key can range from 7 days to 21 days on average. This is an ANNUAL requirement. So far, most Singaporean women I know in their 20s to 30s who are working do not have 10 children, i.e. go for maternity every year.

As for predictability of NS, that is not the issue that triggers the discrimination. It is the fact that nsman HAS the F***ING reservist that gets him discriminated.

NS is killing Singaporeans.

For the record, I have served my 10 years of ICT.

PanzerGrenadier said...

BTW, Molly Meek has a post that discusses your post. You may find his/her/its thoughts interesting.

Siew Kum Hong said...

to lost: Yes, agree that there are some factors stacked against Singaporeans and in particular males. Hence my wish for employers to be enlightened.

to panzergrenadier: Predictability of NS was mentioned to highlight that it can be planned for. But see above -- I am not saying and have all along not said that the situation was perfect or that this problem does not exist. I was postulating what an enlightened employer would/should do.

In any case, I have decided to raise this issue tomorrow (COS debate on Mindef) if the opporutnity presents itself.

simpleperson said...

Dear Sir,

Thank you for highlighting NS in our workplaces. You said "Predictability of NS was mentioned to highlight that it can be planned for." It is exactly this predictability of the annual ICTs (and other NS events) that the employers see it as a burden to their bottom lines. The employers DO NOT have to take in any potential employees that have reservist liabilities. Mr Siew, reservist training has stifled my career.

By the way, I have sweated for 10 years wearing No.4, helmet, SBO in local and overseas training. I have received the LAST SAF letter.

Thank you. Oh, I heard that you have no reservist training. I am happy for me.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Hiring a male Singaporean is like hiring an employee whom you know is going to get chickenpox every single year, until he hits age 40 or 50.

After all, he will need to be away from office 2 or 3 extra weeks per year. Just like anyone with chickenpox.

If foreigners of equal ability (in terms of skills and experience) were easily available in Singapore, who would you hire?

Unfortunately, the whole point of our FT programmes is to make foreigners easily available to employers in Singapore.

In more mathematical terms, suppose there are about 46 working weeks a year (discounting for public holidays and say, 3 weeks of annual leave etc).

Then suppose a male S'porean is away for 4 additional weeks per year on ICT. So he really works only 42 weeks a year.

That's a 9% loss of productivity.

If a male Singaporean and a foreigner have "equal ability to do the work well" (to use your term), the enlightened employer will always pick the foreigner. Because the foreigner has an additional 3 weeks to "do the work well".

Every year.

Hope you will think about it, and use your NMP position to highlight this in Parliament .... again and again and again, until something is done to help male Singaporeans.

Eddie said...

I was discriminated once when I went for my interview at a US MNC.
The two interviewers were Chinese Malaysian FT holding Australia PR.

The first few questions from them were:

1) Do you have NS liability?
2) How many have you serve and how many left?
3) How often are you call up and the duration of it as we want no disruption to the business operation if you are employed?
4) Have you ever try to defer your
NS liability and what is the success rate of it?

After the Q&A session, I realized my chance of being offer the job was very slim as the Dept has 12 employees of whom only 4 were Singaporean who have either completed their NS liability or exempted from it.

I did not get the job. Heard from HR that the position had been taken up by a more "suitable" candidate.

numbernine said...

You could say that an enlightened employee would not hold a person's liability against him when he comes looking for a job. But of course, yet it doesn't tell us anything new.

Neither does the obvious conclusion that NS discrimination is a problem.

If we operate on the assumption that economic motivators get things done - if this assumption drives policy then we shouldn't factor in that rare employer who is enlightened.

The end of this debate should be for concrete action, and I would suggest that you could restructure taxation so that employers either get tax breaks for every one of their employee who has to serve, or get extra taxes for each one who doesn't have to serve. I would prefer the former as the latter tends to depress wages.

After all one of the reasons why MNCs want to come to Singapore is that it provides a safe environment in the military sense. If we are providing them security for free, this is the fiscal equivalent of a welfare handout. We should tax for defence.