Despite Malaysia’s first-class employment standards, workplace discrimination is common.

MALAYSIA stands where it is today from the hard work of its multicultural society who come together as one.

Despite the adversities faced, its people continue to live in peace and harmony for more than six decades.

Everyone has the right to work, own a home and drive, regardless of gender, race and religion.

Despite Malaysia’s first-class employment standards, many suffer from workplace discrimination in the public and private sectors.

A public relations officer from a property development company said she was always left out in conversations as her colleagues spoke in their Mandarin mother tongue.

Shanti Ramesh (not her real name) said her superiors also spoke Mandarin. Since most of them spoke the same language, they would sometimes converse in Mandarin during meetings and work discussions.

She said her employers did not address the language issue experienced at the office as they assumed other people would translate and inform those who did not understand Mandarin.

“It can be frustrating, especially when I am trying to blend in with other employees. I can’t help but feel upset.

“What is worse is that they would not acknowledge my existence when I was standing near them,” she said, adding that it also happened to other colleagues who did not speak the language.

Shanti, 29, said she would be one of the last to receive work updates as she would be informed only much later.

She said people were cold towards “outsiders” (those not of the same background) and did not try to accommodate new colleagues. She said she joined the company only last year.

Keeping a positive outlook, she said they could also be treating her differently because she was the new girl at the office.

“There hasn’t been much change since I first joined seven months ago, but I am doing my best to cope and remain professional.

“However, the people in my previous company were friendly and accommodating. Maybe that is why I feel lost,” she said.

She expressed disbelief as she never expected to face racial discrimination in an organisation deemed to be one of the “big boys” in the industry.

A mother of five, who wants to be known only as Adida Rahim, told New Sunday Times that her male superiors and colleagues continued to question her credibility and knowledge because she was a woman.

Having worked for more than 20 years in the civil service, she said she was up for a promotion to lead the digital forensic team as she had the proper qualifications and passed all requirements last year.

However, she said, she did not get the promotion.

“My boss told me that women are not allowed to lead the digital forensic team. They wanted a man to do it.”

This, she said, was not an isolated incident, stating that her boss would exclude her from discussions, but include junior male staff.

 “The junior staff members have been working for only three to six years. I have been here for more than 20 years and, yet, their thoughts and opinions take precedence over mine and other female senior colleagues.

“My boss even makes major decisions without our (female staff members) input.

“When things go wrong, you know who they point their fingers to — the women at the office.”

Adida said she had lodged a report to a higher supervisor a few months ago, but no action had been taken.

She said this happened daily and it had taken a toll not only on her, but also other female comrades.

Adida expressed her relief following news that the Employment Act 1955 would be amended to address discrimination at the workplace.

“I never knew that reports and complaints could be sent to the Labour Department.

“I was on the verge of giving up, but I feel better knowing there would be hope for the people who are being discriminated at their workplace.

Khalid Amir (not his real name), 33, related his experience as a logistic supervisor at a Japanese car dealership, where he was questioned for having prayer breaks throughout the day.

He was the only Muslim there and when he took a break to perform prayers, he would inform the others that he would be gone for a few minutes.

However, despite getting the greenlight from his co-workers, he would often get calls from his superiors to return to the office as they needed him for something.

“It was so obvious. When I go to the surau, in less than five minutes, someone will call or message me to come back to the office. I would have to rush through my prayer.

“But, when I’m in the office, nobody bothers me.

“I even skip lunch to attend Friday prayers because there will always be something on.

“My bosses will always call me during prayer time to tell me that new stocks have arrived.

“I didn’t bring up this issue to the Human Resources Department because a majority of them were non-Muslims. Instead, I left the company.”

Omar Mansor (not his real name), 28, said lawyers were more dispensable than clerks, especially in banking litigation and conveyancing, as they handled more paperwork while lawyer did work that were related more towards formalities.

“Many employers tend to accept whatever that is being shoved to them by clerks, even if it is at the lawyer’s expense.

“Several of my lawyer friends were even terminated due to false allegations made by clerks.”

He said the firm he worked at liked to place chambering students under the clerk’s supervision and didn’t provide them training.

“The clerks told us this was normal, stating that the bosses felt fresh graduates were useless and not knowledgeable enough to do ‘real’ work”.

Omar said some chambering students were accused of misconduct when the clerks misunderstood things and reported it to his boss without seeking clarification from him.

“It is a reason why many fresh graduates do not stay long in practice.”

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