During the Hari Raya Aidilfitri festivities last year, minister for communications and information, Yaacob Ibrahim, who is also the minister-in-charge of Muslim affairs, announced the setting up of an independent, non-partisan committee to engage the Malay/Muslim community and gather feedback on the community's thoughts, concerns and aspirations.
With Sallim Abdul Kadir as the chairman, and Alwi Abdul Hafiz and Saleemah Ismail as vice-chairpersons, the committee met over 500 individuals as well as representatives of groups and organisations from the Malay/Muslim community and conducted 35 focus group discussions. Recently, the committee submitted its report to the minister titled, ‘Suara Musyawarah: Conversations with the Community’.
The report highlighted that while the Malay/Muslim community in Singapore “identifies itself as part of and belonging to the broader Singapore community”, there also exists a “perception of unequal opportunities” among the community.
Based on numerous personal accounts when employers expressed a preference for non-Malay employees , the Suara Musyawarah committee noted “there appears to be enough examples to indicate that discriminatory employment practices are a concern for the community” and that “employment discrimination is not uncommon”.
“Interestingly, some participants shared that nurses in government hospitals are not allowed to wear the tudung while most private hospitals appeared to allow the practice. In addition, concerns were raised that competition from foreigners in recent years has aggravated the issue of discrimination and made it more difficult for Singaporean Malay/Muslims to secure jobs,” the committee said.
The committee also noted that while there is a recognition of initiatives such as the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) in mitigating discrimination, the community feels that “such measures are not very effective as they are voluntary with no penalty for non-compliance”.
Hence, the Suara Musyawarah “committee recommends that in-depth studies on the discriminatory practices in Singapore and its impact be done at the national level”.
The committee also called upon the state and larger companies in the private sector to reaffirm that their employment practices are non-discriminatory.
There are concerns that “community is not fully accepted as an equal and integral part of society and that certain stereotypes, generalisations and negative perceptions of the community lead to what is perceived as discrimination”, the committee further said.
During its various focus group discussions, the issue of Malay/Muslims being left out of certain parts of the armed forces was also raised, where the committee noted “there is common agreement that such policies or practices call into question the loyalty of the Malays to the country. This perception is unhealthy and may have spill-over effects, including a deeper divide among ethnic communities”.
Thus, “while the committee acknowledges that more Malay/Muslim recruits are deployed across a wider section of our uniformed services today, we hope that policies in relation to security and the Singapore Armed Forces could be continually reviewed, so that the Malay/Muslim community is viewed in the same light as any other community and would have no reason to feel that their loyalty is questioned,” it added.
The Suara Musyawarah committee also welcomed remarks made by Tan Chuan-Jin, acting minister for manpower, while addressing the Singapore Tripartism Forum (STF) conference on fair employment practices on May 20, 2013. “The minister acknowledged the issue and recognised that anti-discrimination legislation is one possible way ahead to tackle discriminatory workplace practices, besides the current approach of moral suasion”, the committee said.
The minister had said then, “There are also calls for the Government to put in place anti-discrimination laws. I understand the arguments made in favour of such legislation and I fully appreciate the concerns that underlie these thoughts. Anti-discrimination legislation is one possible way to address these issues and we do not reject the idea entirely.”
Repeated attempts by Newzzit to get the government's response on concerns and recommendations mentioned in the Suara Musyawarah report were unsuccessful. While minister-in-charge of Muslim affairs Yaacob Ibrahim was not available for comments, the ministry of manpower too declined a response.
Note: We will publish the ministries' replies as and when we receive them.