Workplace discrimination is a phenomenon that presents itself in various forms. Whether it takes the form of exclusion or bias against the individual, it amounts to a violation of one’s constitutional and human rights.
Reports and or accusation of discriminatory practices based on race, colour, class and gender are commonplace. It is disturbing to have or condone such practices within the workplace.
Human resources managers should be uncomfortable if these practices exist in their workplaces. If this is so, it definitely would tend to reflect poorly on them, and moreover, certainly portrays that they are sadly lacking in applying the basic guiding principles of good human resources management.
Where ever the practice of discrimination takes place within the employment sectors, it has the effect of denying the individual the right to equal opportunity. It is therefore expected that the constitution of any land would reflect the rights and fundamental principles one should enjoy.
In this way the state ensures protection against the violation of discriminatory practices. The Constitution of the land is supported by labour statutes and various International Labour Organisation’s conventions and recommendations.
Trade unions are guided by the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which were adopted in June 1990. This Declaration sets out core principles which have since been adopted by the international community. These include freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to be heard.
The practice of discrimination by age is implicitly addressed in ILO Convention #29, on the Eliminations of all forms of Compulsory Labour, which was ratified, 28 June, 1930. The ILO Convention #138 indirectly speaks to the subject of age. It more or less protects those who are not adults within the workforce. It ensures that every boy and girl is allowed the opportunity to develop both mentally and physically. The Convention speaks to the minimum age for the introduction to employment and work.
The issue of discrimination as it relates to persons of all ages is directly addressed by ILO Convention #111, 1958 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation). The goal of this convention is the promotion of equality of opportunity, the treatment of employment and occupation. This stands on the premise that all persons would be treated equally and fairly.
The principle of fairness is often subject to being compromised, for the simple reason that the issue of subjectivity becomes a defining factor in the engagement process.
As a wave of new entrants come into the workforce on an annual basis and as the demand for jobs grossly outweighs availability, the issue of age, whether intentionally or not, forces its way as a factor for consideration into the recruitment process. Employees, managers and human resource managers masked this exceptionally well.
They disguise their actions by advancing the position that they are looking to attract and employ younger persons, who are said to have new skills and competencies, an improved knowledge base, and are likely to be innovated.
Whilst the premise on which this argument is founded may seem flawless, it nonetheless falls down inasmuch that the assumption is made that older persons may not possess all of the same qualities. It all comes down to believing and accepting that age is only a number. The individual’s ability to get the job done and to be productive, are two of the principal things that matter.
There is likely to be the counter argument that younger workers are discriminated against at the point of recruitment, as it is often suggested that they do not have the requisite experience. On face value there is merit to this contention. Given the failure to recognise that experience comes when the individual benefits from being employed, the validity of the contention becomes debatable.
The practice of requesting the age of a candidate who applies for a job should not be seen as malicious. At the end of the day, the employer has the right to ensure that their investment in human resource is worthwhile. Would it be wise to recruit an individual who has between two and five years active service left before reaching the statutory retirement age, over a graduate from the university or college, who meets the requirements for the job.
Job seekers should not allow themselves to be constrained by the age factor. However, it would be wise for every individual to make an overall assessment of the pros and cons, before applying for a particular job. Given that it is the employer’s right to hire, it begs the question: Is the matter of age discrimination being perpetuated when there is an acceptance of the placement of job advertisements in the media for persons of a specific age range? It is datable whether this in itself is nothing more than a necessary evil.
* Dennis De Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
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