BANNING OF HEADSCARVES BY HOTELS IS FAR FROM OVER
Tourism and Culture Minister (MOTAC) Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said on 22nd of November 2017 that Muslims who work as frontline hotel staff have the right to wear headscarves. He further lambasted the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) for the “irresponsible” and “anti-Islam” statement on the headscarves ban and dismissed their claims that the practice was consistent among global hoteliers. The minister was supported by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (KPWKM), whose minister had promised to keep a close monitoring of the situation.
Many think the dust has settled, but the religious discrimination for Muslim women is far from over.
In our meeting with 3 employees, out of 12 who had complained of not being allowed to wear headscarves to work, working in one particular 5 star hotel in the heart of Kuala Lumpur (name of hotel is not provided to protect the employees from disciplinary action by the employers), we found that the headscarves ban was not only for the frontline staff, but is extended to all departments where the nature of the job entails the staff interacting face to face with hotel clientele. The headscarves banning in this particular hotel thus include the cashier, the event manager, banquet staff, room cleaners and strangely, even those working in the kitchen. The hotel staff have their request to wear hijab turned down many times by the hotel management. Among the reason given by the management is that they are awaiting for further instructions from MAH. The employees had also reported to Jabatan Tenaga Kerja , where an officer came a month ago and visited the hotel, but chose to accept the same reason given by the management. The employees have never heard from him since.
This simply shows that the matter is still far from being resolved if the decision lies solely in the hands of the said hotel association. In one press statement, UNI Malaysia Labour Centre (UNI-MLC) has expressed their great disappointment that MAH had failed to show up in a meeting scheduled by Labour Department Peninsular Malaysia and chaired by its Director General last December. The meeting was well attended by UNI-MLC, Malaysia Trade Union Congress (MTUC), Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), MOTAC, KPWKM, Ministry of Urban Well Being, Housing and Local Government and Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM) in order to settle the matter amicably. We agree with UNI-MLC that MAH has shown utter disrespect to the government of the day and showed no interest whatsoever in granting the rights of the Muslim women to observe their religious obligations.
The refusal of MAH to take any concrete action in this matter violates Article 8(2) in the Federal Constitution that there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment. Even as a private business entity, Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) assures that everyone is entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. We have reiterated previously, while the international employment policy itself demands for companies to comply with published corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards to account for its social, economic and environmental impact locally, it also ensures transparency and fair treatment for the employees. Thus, it is refutable to claim that hijab wearing women could not enter into hotel employment contracts just because it is an international policy and has been practiced worldwide since beginning. When there is a binding convention on the protection of women’s rights, the ‘international policy on hijab banning’ is debatable. If it’s truly legal, then this oppressive policy or practice is clearly a form of religious discrimination to Muslim women who decide to perform the act of obligation whenever they are out looking for earning.
We also agreed with the position taken by Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review Process (MACSA) that the policy by MAH is clearly a matter of personal prejudice and cultural intolerance rather than sound business practice, nor is it made in compliance with the law. As such, it can be changed, and it should be changed.
UNI-MLC also highlighted that the number of hotels banning headscarves has increased from 20 to 28 at the day the press conference was made on 8th December 2017.
Our interview with the hotel employees showed that nothing has really changed since the matter was brought to the attention of the media and authorities.
The 3 hotel employees we spoke to work as a cashier, a spa masseur and a banquet manager for more than 27, 15 and 10 years respectively. One would have thought that their vast experiences, skill and loyalty would be of most valuable asset to the company. Alas, that’s not to be and it’s ashamed that in this day and age, these chains of hotels under MAH choose to stick to the ridiculous concept of one without the headscarves as an important element to attract customers. In doing so, they are also denying the opportunity for thousands of young Muslim women from pursuing hospitality careers.
We urge Ministry of Tourism and Culture to take stern measures on MAH if they fail to address the issue of religious discrimination once and for all and to revoke hotel licences if need be. The government should train and empower its officers from Jabatan Tenaga Kerja to investigate the complaints of hotel employees thoroughly and not be intimidated by the employers. We also hope the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to monitor these complaints closely by establishing an effective mechanism to ensure that they are responded to.
Associate Professor Dr Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar
President of The International Women’s Alliance
for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ).
WAFIQ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.