Discrimination Monitor 2010: non-Western migrants on the Dutch labour market

Today the Dutch Discrimination Monitor 2010 published. The Discrimination Monitor was compiled at the request of the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. In this monitor the focus on the situation of non-Western migrants on the Dutch labour market. This blogpost is an excerpt taken from the English summary of the report, which can be found HERE.

The purpose of the Discrimination Monitor 2010: non-Western migrants on the Dutch labour market (Discriminatiemonitor niet-westerse migranten op de arbeidsmarkt 2010) is to ascertain the nature and extent of discrimination against non-Western migrants on the Dutch labour market, to identify trends in that discrimination and to assess how important discrimination is in determining the labour market position of non-Western migrants. The Monitor is based on a general definition of discrimination as ‘the unfair treatment of persons because they belong or are considered to belong to a particular group’ (Köbben 1985; Veenman 1990, 2003). The research shows that, even where candidates were equally suitable, employers still more often selected a native Dutch candidate than a non-Western migrant.

In the view of recruitment officers, candidates of non-Western origin are deficient in areas such as Dutch language proficiency and the way they present themselves during job interviews, they do not get through the job application procedure. Wearing a headscarf or a ‘Muslim beard’ and earlier bad experiences with non-Western migrants in the workplace are also cited as reasons for not choosing a non-Western candidate.

The employers surveyed in this study have few problems with relations between employees of native Dutch and non-Western origin. In their view, therefore, this is not a reason to reject candidates with a non-Western background. On the other hand, there are employers who select on the basis of ethnic background based on the expectation or experience that certain ethnic groups are unable to get along together, or in order to prevent a particular ethnic group from forming a majority in the workplace. Finally, there are employers who have had pronounced negative experiences with employees with a non-Western background that are related to their (Islamic) culture or religion. Examples include withdrawal from social activities, not being willing to shake the hand of someone of the opposite sex, not being prepared to wash members of the opposite sex (care sector) and/or dressing in an ever more traditional way. None of the employers interviewed have experienced this regularly, however, and at individual level they therefore regard these experiences as exceptional. What they consider more problematic is the way in which some non-Western migrants approach written and unwritten rules in the workplace. Experiences with employees who repeatedly turn up late, don’t
turn up at all, put in leave requests at short notice or take long holidays are all reasons for recruitment officers to regard taking on non-Western migrants as ‘a hassle’. In particular employees of Moroccan and Antillean background are viewed negatively while Turkish and Surinamese employees are regarded relatively positive.

Stereotypical images and negative experiences of non-Western migrants are found in some cases to lead to certain groups of non-Western migrants being excluded from the labour market.  The main picture that emerges from the interviews is that choosing a non-Western migrant to fill a vacancy is regarded as a choice which carries certain risks, and this expected or manifest risk means there is a tendency to prefer a native Dutch candidate. This finding suggests that statistical discrimination plays an important role in the exclusion of non-Western migrants from the labour market. According to the statistical discrimination theory, selection decisions on the labour market are regarded as procedures in which a decision ultimately have to be taken within a short space of time about which candidate is the most suitable to fill a particular vacancy. The most suitable candidate is the one with the greatest productivity and the lowest risk. The information that recruitment officers have available to make this decision (e.g. from the candidate’s cv) is insufficient. Gathering information that would provide more certainty about a candidate’s likely productivity is expensive in both time and money. In a bid to keep these costs down, employers use an average assessment of the productivity and risks of the group to which the candidate is considered to belong in order to estimate the expected productivity and risks of the individual applicant. According to this theory, individual non-Western migrants will be excluded from the labour market because of the unfavourable assessment of the productivity and risk associated with non-Western migrants as a group. The role played by statistical discrimination in employers’ selection decisions is reflected in the arguments they use for rejecting certain groups of non-Western migrants. Employers also tend to be more critical when it comes to candidates of non-Western origin. This does not mean that they are always ruled out before they start, but it does mean that candidates of non-Western origin, and especially those with a Moroccan or Antillean background, have to produce far more evidence of their suitability than a comparable native Dutch candidate in order to be selected.

The fact that non-Western migrants have to go the extra mile in order to be able to compete with native Dutch job candidates is also confirmed by employees of intermediary organisations. Negative opinions about qualities and stereotyping do not necessarily lead to the exclusion of non-Western migrants. Several employers indicated that they would like to employ more people of non-Western origin. People may feel that non-Western migrants are less well qualified and then, based on a desire for diversity, adjust the selection standards so that these groups have more chance of being taken on.

As in the Discrimination Monitor 2007, an inventory was compiled for this Monitor of complaints and requests for rulings submitted to Dutch antidiscrimination bureaus (adbs) and the Equal Treatment Commission (cgb), respectively, with a view to gaining a better picture of the nature of the discrimination experienced by non-Western migrants (and their children). Relatively more complaints are submitted about discrimination in the workplace (39%) than about recruitment and selection (27%) and (threatened) dismissal (11%). This finding differs from other studies which show that discrimination is most common in the recruitment and selection process. This discrepancy may be due to the higher percentage of working people relative to the percentage of jobseekers in our study. Moreover, unequal treatment and negative attitudes in the workplace are more visible and more readily experienced as discrimination than discrimination during recruitment and selection, which often remains hidden from the applicant. It is therefore possible that suspicions of discrimination during recruitment and selection are reported less readily, partly because they are more difficult to prove.

Most complaints submitted are about discrimination on the grounds of race (81%), while 16% concern discrimination on the grounds of religion.  Despite the observations being spread over a longer period, few changes can be discerned in the number and nature of the complaints. Requests for rulings submitted to the Equal Treatment Commission In the period 2005-2008, 93 requests from non-Western migrants relating to labour market discrimination on the aforementioned grounds led to a ruling being issued by the Dutch Equal Treatment Commission (cgb). Rulings were also issued on a further 26 requests where the origin of the requesting party was not recorded, though based on the texts of the rulings it may be assumed that many of them came from non-Western migrants. As with the antidiscrimination bureaus, most of the requests submitted to the Equal Treatment Commission came from people of Moroccan, Turkish, Surinamese or Antillean origin. In 48 of these 119 requests (the 93 cited plus the 26 anonymous requests), the cgb ruled that the complaint was justified. Most requests involved a complaint about recruitment and selection procedures, or about a combination of discrimination in the workplace and discriminatory terms of employment.

Again, we are unable to discern any trends in the requests for rulings submitted to the cgb between 2005 and 2008. The complaint records of the antidiscrimination bureaus and the rulings by the Equal Treatment Commission provide an insight into the nature of the experienced discrimination. Two things stand out. First, the complaints and requests relating to discrimination on the grounds of religion mostly concern the recruitment and selection procedures. In most of the cases dealt with, the cgb ruled that a prohibited distinction had been drawn – i.e. that there had been discrimination. These cases mostly involved Muslim women wearing a headscarf. The texts of the cgb rulings reveal that in many cases where the employer had set general clothing requirements which were used as a basis for banning the wearing of a headscarf, the employer was unable to demonstrate the legitimacy, necessity and appropriateness of those requirements. The second striking feature is that complaints and requests relating to discrimination on the grounds of race mainly concern incidents in the workplace, often involving discriminatory treatment (e.g. bullying or insults) in combination with an employment conflict. It is often unclear whether the conflict arose as a result of discrimination; in many cases there is a lack of evidence, and the cgb consequently rules that no discrimination can be demonstrated. The data accordingly show that the cgb finds evidence of discrimination in only a third of the cases handled. In some cases, the cgb rules that the law has been contravened because an employer has not dealt adequately with an employee’s complaint about discrimination.

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