Malaysiakini Letter

Civil Rights and Race Relations Acts needed

Jacob George  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Malaysians are aware that it is illegal under US federal law to discriminate against an employee either intentionally or through a disparate impact on account of his or her race, coloUr, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

It is also illegal to harass an employee on account of these protected characteristics or to retaliate against an employee because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Most US employers with at least 15 employees are covered by this body of federal law as are most labour unions and employment agencies.

It does not end there. There are indeed remedies put in place such illegalities.

US employees who believe they have been unfairly discriminated against may seek redress in various federal, state and local administrative agencies, and the US federal and state courts. Individuals who assert federal discrimination claims (and some state claims) must first file a charge of discrimination with the federal EEOC or the relevant local agency before bringing a lawsuit against the employer in court.

In the US federal system, the agency will then investigate and determine whether or not there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. If the agency finds that there is reasonable cause, it will attempt to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer.

In some cases, the agency will file a lawsuit in federal court on the employee’s behalf. The employee can only sue the employer in court if the agency does not find a reasonable cause or cannot obtain a recovery for the individual.

In the US again, if the court finds that a termination was the result of unlawful discrimination, the employee may be entitled to reinstatement (rarely granted), monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.

Interestingly, the issue of discrimination in whatever form, from politics, lifestyle issues, education and housing to job opportunities, health and religion has a place which is central to their law and order and it is entrenched accordingly.

So forgive me when I fell off my chair laughing that the Malaysian government is looking at introducing legislation to curb racial discrimination when landlords lease or rent out a property.

I am concerned, because Housing and Local Government Minister, Zuraida Kamaruddin was reported to have stated that the government viewed racial discrimination in property-related matters seriously and wanted to introduce an internationally recognised law as a deterrent here.

As lawyers are certainly aware there is a law called Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) which is internationally recognised. It basically provides protection against any racial discrimination for either party either the tenants or the landlords.

I have no issues with this legislation. But I am more concerned with the perceived hypocrisy and double-speak when the sitting newly-minted minister’s statement seems to limit discrimination in the Malaysian eco-system just to property renting? Why be selective despite the elephant in the room?

Why the need too for the state apparatus to intervene in what is a private arrangement between two parties which does not involve the state apparatus or for that matter, public monies? Basically, the government being a busy body when there are more urgent and real issues to deal with as a national agenda.

Is the same minister courageous enough to put her political life on the line to facilitate the enactment of legislation similar to the US' Civil Rights Act or a much needed Race Relations Act in Malaysia?

It is no secret that Malaysians face all forms of discrimination daily tolerating each and every despite the hurt and holding on to their dignity and keeping their decorum.

I was in a meeting recently when the chairperson could not help but bring in the issues of “race and religion” when addressing a consumer discourse!

The good thing is we are all today trained to tolerate such discourses despite being uncomfortable!

Returning to the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) honesty is required and that is the nation needs is a Race Relations Act and a Civil Rights Act.

Anything less only confirms one’s hypocrisy and political "two-facedness" as calls to address a national need are sidestepped.

The writer is president, Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam, Selangor (Cassa).

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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