Mandarin-Speaking Shop Assistants: Is This Racial Discrimination?

Posted on January 26, 2007


Not too long ago, we spotted job vacancies demanding Chinese-speaking shop assistants, in what are otherwise modern, culturally-odourless fashion outlets, in shopping malls scattered throughout the Klang Valley. This requirement presents an unnecessary barrier to workers of other races from getting paid employment and being part of a multiracial workforce. Although we are strong advocates of a national education system that includes the teaching of languages other than Bahasa and English, as exemplified by Switzerland’s quadrilingual policy, we are uncomfortable with the notion of excluding people who do not speak a certain language in job vacancies.

If the business is culture-specific, such as Chinese restaurants, gambling outlets, tea or traditional medicine shops, then the need for a Chinese-speaking shop assistant would be valid, as the products and terminology related to the business would be more conveniently communicated in Chinese. This applies to all culture-specific commercial activities, be they Malay, Chinese or Indian. However, if the business in question is a contemporary, Western-style fashion outlet, whose demographic targets Malaysian youths who have all been taught in at least two languages, namely Bahasa and English, then it is not essential to employ language-specific shop assistants, regardless of the racial background of the clientele.

We view this exclusionist policy as a subtle form of racial (or rather, linguistic) discrimination, and we are deeply disturbed by this development.

Posted in: Labour Issues