From ‘Yogurt chain to raise hiring standards after shunning woman for not speaking Mandarin’, 15 Jan 2015, article by Joanna Seow, ST
Frozen yogurt chain llaollao has promised to improve its hiring guidelines after a local woman was allegedly turned away from a job interview because she could not speak Mandarin.
Indian undergraduate Karishma Kaur, 22, applied for a part-time role at the company’s West Mall branch on Jan 7 but said she was not given an interview as the manager spoke only Mandarin and could not interview her in English.
After she posted about the matter on Facebook, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) received a complaint about it on Jan 12 and is looking into the issue.
Llaollao Singapore’s country manager Edwin Ferroa said he has been in talks with Tafep “to look into how we can better the way we employ”, and added: “We don’t condone such discriminatory behaviour based on race, language or religion.”
He said that the company had already begun probing the incident on Jan 10 and found that the woman who had spoken with Ms Kaur was the wife of the store’s owner who had been helping out. She was not an actual employee.
To date, there are no anti-discriminatory laws in Singapore. The Tafep, launched by Minister Tan Chuan Jin, makes ‘guidelines’, organises workshops to teach employers about ‘fair’ hiring and if necessary, slaps ‘demerit points’ on recalcitrant companies. Since then, the agency has shamed companies for wanting directors ‘aged around 30 years’, ‘Filipinos only’, ‘Malaysian PRs’ and ‘preferred Female Chinese’. Some companies are more specific on who would make ideal employees – people who recoil at the ‘thought of having kids’. Others, while not guilty of discriminatory advertising, may drop you during the interview if you have a barely noticeable baby bump, stutter, or are openly gay.
According to the Tripartite guidelines, you are discouraged from employing people based on age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, or disability unless exempted by the nature of work. For obvious reasons, you need someone who’s fluent in Mandarin in order to be a tour guide for PRCs, or you’ll have to exclude Muslims if you’re dealing with Bee Cheng Hiang bakkwa. If you’re hiring masseurs, you’d have to say sorry to the guy missing both thumbs.
However, the guidelines do not say anything against hiring people based on their LOOKS. Which means Abercrombie and Fitch can get away with hiring ‘attractive’ people, Hooters can pick and choose employees with a ‘GREAT SMILE’, and our very own SIA can reject any lady below 1.58m tall. A ‘pleasant’ look, as everyone knows, is euphemism for ‘good-looking’. In my experience patronising hip ice-cream or yogurt joints, you’re more likely to be served by young women in shorts than, well, 40-ish uncles in khakis and crocs. Just look at this FB post, which claims that the company hires ‘Singaporeans or PRs only’. Apparently they missed out the ‘Speak no English OK’ requirement. According to Ms Kaur, she was told that the manager of the West Mall stall was ‘from China’. Well well, you’ve got some explaining to do, Llaollao!
Another notable absence from the guide is discrimination against one’s ‘sexual orientation’. You’re unlikely to get a job as a Sunday school teacher if you’re a transgender, nor have we heard of openly gay colonels in the SAF. Goldman Sachs, however, has a team dedicated to hiring LGBT staff, which one could counter-argue to be discriminatory against heterosexuals. What about ‘political beliefs’? Just ask Cherian George. Or ‘dietary habits’, like say I only hire vegetarians for my Animal Rescue company because of my belief that anyone who loves animals shouldn’t be eating them as well?
As an employer, it’s easy to slide from ‘discerning’ to ‘discriminatory’. The harsh truth is no one who cares about the survival of their business is just going to hire any Tom, Dick or Harry willy-nilly for the sake of universal equality. If you want to publish a politically correct ad for a beer server in a kopitiam, for example, following the guidelines strictly would mean something like ‘Wanted: A human being (nope, even ‘waitress’ is frowned upon). With a working brain’. Which is a waste of not just your candidate’s time, but yours as well. As for the hugely popular frozen yogurt chain, I doubt this series of events would turn the business cold, though you may want to familiarise yourself with yogurt flavours in Chinese the next time you order.