TBI Age Discrimination: The Final Wrap

One of the issues we have raised in recent weeks is the rampant age discrimination which is evident in TBI job ads, and even on the TBI website itself. Worryingly, their very own website stated that they were only interested in interviewing managers who were 35 years or younger. When it comes to service staff, the discrimination was even more flagrant. TBI job ads routinely state that only people 25 years or younger are welcome to apply. At the same time, they have insisted these applicants have a 4 year university degree and at least one year’s work experience. This doesn’t leave much room, does it? In other words, they will only employ graduates with 1 years’ experience. No truly experienced employees are desired.

In this post we will discuss the legality of this dubious policy and also try and cast some light on TBI’s obsession with seemingly arbitrary age limits. Put another way, we will explore the hidden economic agenda behind TBI’s variable age discrimination. We will explain, in particular, why 56 year old foreign teachers are welcome to apply for a job, but 26 year old Indonesians are sometimes viewed as too old.

Discrimination Law in Indonesia

We found the following useful information on a law firm’s website. It offers a broad overview of discrimination law in the country.

The Manpower Law provides that each employee shall be entitled to equal treatment from the employer without discrimination. Each employee has the same rights and opportunities to obtain a decent job and livelihood without discrimination by sex, ethnic group, race religion or political orientation, in accordance with the interests and abilities of the employee, including equal treatment for the disabled.

Now there is no direct mention of age discrimination there, but it is still far from clear that age discrimination is allowed. After all, there is the umbrella assurance that “each employee shall be entitled to equal treatment from the employer without discrimination.” Lawyers could squabble about whether the “sex, ethnic group, race, religion or political orientation” list is intended to be indicative or exhaustive. In other words, are these merely examples of the kinds of discrimination which are prohibited, or are they a definitive list of what is prohibited?

Whichever way you construe them, these words sure aren’t a “green light” to go ahead and discriminate willy-nilly against 26 year olds by deeming them too old to work on the front desk of a school. Perhaps TBI knows that is sailing in murky waters because as soon as we started highlighting their age discrimination on this blog, they changed their job ads and removed all reference to age. As of late October 2014, the 25 years old or younger rule has disappeared from their job ads. It seems they may be running scared.

What the Age Limits Tell Us

While the age limits may be of dubious legality and are almost indefensible on moral grounds, they do tell us a lot about this organization. In particular, there is a hidden financial motive that underlies all of this. We don’t believe that they have anything in for 36 year old managers especially; these regulations merely reflect the various financial priorities of TBI. Money is all they care about, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.

The tell-tale sign that this is about money is the fact that their recent job ads for foreign teachers say that the required age is 25-57. (Actually, one regulation on the books says 55, and apparently over 55s may have difficulty getting a KITAS, but that is an issue for another day). The relevant point here is that TBI is welcoming expat teachers who are 56 years old but turning away front-office staff who are 26. This is evidence that they don’t hate “old people” generally; there is something else going on.

What is going on, I will suggest, is that they are focused on getting staff to keep things ticking over at the lowest cost possible. While a 1st year expat teacher who is 26 years old will get the same salary as a 56 year old expat teacher, an Indonesian graduate with 1 years’ experience will probably accept a much lower salary than a tested salesperson with a great CV and ten years’ experience.

It’s All About the Money, Money, Money

Therefore, the low age limit for Indonesians is really about trying to get employees as cheaply as possible. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the company are known to obsess about not giving overtime to local staff; they have been very penny-pinching over the last couple of years, especially in Jakarta, where they have been losing a huge amount of market share to international competitors.

They also know that expats are far more rights-assertive than local staff. Indonesian is a very hierarchical society and locals are far less likely to challenge authority than expats. This is not my opinion or idle speculation; the Business Development Manager, Luke Preece, has said exactly these words in the past. They actually do prefer youthful expat teachers too. In the past, they have turned down grey-haired job applicants on the grounds that, “Indonesians don’t like old people.” But can you imagine if advertised on Tefl.com for expat teachers with the age requirement 25-40? Expats would be outraged and they would risk further angry commentary on the Internet. With Indonesians, in contrast, they feel that they can get away with it.

Get ‘Em Cheap and Use Them Up

What this tells me is that TBI Senior Management are people without a social conscience. They are people who never seem to do “the right thing” unless they are shamed into it. They are people whose only priority is making a dollar (or should that be rupiah) as cheaply and easily as possible, never taking a more generous or broad-minded approach. They are people who are essentially users and takers: potential staff exist to service TBI’s needs, and they hope to pay them as little as possible. Further and crucially, they don’t value the wisdom and experience of older people, viewing these valuable traits as potentially expensive. A lack of respect for staff and teachers is very evident in their schools, which is why there is a constant stream of people leaving for greener pastures. If you look at their job ads closely, you will see that this lack of respect is evident even in their discriminatory hiring policies.

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