The Union Network International-Malaysia Labour Centre (UNI-MLC) recently revealed that it has been receiving a numerous complaints from Muslim female hotel employees that their management has banned them from wearing headscarves at work
According to a report by The Star Online on Saturday, 11 November, UNI-MLC said in a statement on 6 November that the headscarf ban also affects students in the tourism and hospitality industry in Malaysia.
They were allegedly told to remove their headscarves when going for internships or risk not getting hired for wearing it. Due to this, some female Muslim employees are forced to remove their headscarves when they're going to work and putting it back on after working hours.
Defending the move, the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) told The Star that this uniform policy is a common practice at international hotel chains.
"This policy is practised in international hotel chains that use the same global standard operating procedure on uniforms in all hotel chains in their chain globally," its chairman Samuel Cheah Swee Hee explained.
Cheah pointed out that Muslims females who are interested in the hotel industry can instead opt for jobs at the 'back of the house' or work with hotels that incorporate headscarf in their uniform
"The problem is everyone wants to join the 5-star global hotel brand, but they do not want to follow the uniform policy that is their worldwide standard," he added.
Stressing that the headscarf ban is not a discriminatory practice, Cheah said that the policy is in line with the standard operating procedure (SOP) that most hotels need to follow.
"It is a matter of policy and SOP which is used worldwide by all hotels. It is not about Islamophobia because this has been done from the beginning.
"I've told students to find the type of work that allows them to wear tudung, There are also hotels that accepts workers who wear the tudung in frontline roles," he told The Malaysian Insight on 11 November.
Responding to the issue, UNI-MLC has urged the Human Resources Ministry to look into the matter and come up with a suitable guideline to ensure that there is no discrimination against female employees in the hotel industry
"By not allowing female Muslim staff to wear headscarves to work, not only does this deny them of their rights to practice their religion freely, but it also limits them from pursuing a career of their choice," said UNI-MLC president Datuk Mohamed Shafie BP Mammal.
The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) echoes the sentiments of UNI-MLC.
"I would say that barring women from wearing scarves is inappropriate. If a company wants the headscarf to blend with its uniform, for example, then the management can ask the Muslim women to match the colour of the scarf with the standard colour.
"Or perhaps the management can come up with an acceptable design for the headscarf. It would then be more of a win-win situation," said MEF president Shamsuddin Bardan, as reported by Free Malaysia Today.
Meanwhile, the International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (Wafiq) opined that the headscarf ban is insensitive and reflects poorly on the hotel industry's diversity and equality policy
"Given that Muslims comprise of approximately 60% of the multi-diverse Malaysian population, banning headscarves shows insensitivity towards the Malaysian culture and religious needs of its people.
"Wafiq does not see wearing the hijab as a deterrence to any Muslim woman to perform her best at work any more than a person who does not wear the headscarf," said Hazlin Chong, the secretary of Wafiq.
The group urged all hotel owners to take the matter seriously and understand that a headscarf ban is a blatant form of religious discrimination and Islamophobia.
PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar came down hard on the headscarf ban, saying that the government should revoke the licenses of hotels that practice the policy
Nurul Izzah said that such an action would ensure that no company in the country had discriminatory policies against religious practices.
"If indeed a ban on workers wearing hijabs is a company policy especially in international hotels, the ministry should consider revoking their operation licenses.
"The government has to answer how they have allowed international hotels to discriminate against religious practices," the Lembah Pantai MP told The Malaysian Insight on 11 November.
The Malaysian Tourism Ministry isn't too happy about the headscarf policy either
Deputy Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin wants the MAH to justify the ban, explaining that the policy is unfair to women who want to work in the hotel industry.
"Malaysian employers should know about our Federal Constitution which is based on freedom of religion and this must be respected," she stressed, as reported by Utusan Malaysia last week.
What do you think about headscarf ban in the hotel industry? Let us know in the comment section below.