Religious attire should be allowed at workplaces where possible: Zaqy Mohamad

Mr Zaqy said it is important for employers to communicate their uniform policy or dress code clearly and sensitively to their employees and job seekers.
Mr Zaqy said it is important for employers to communicate their uniform policy or dress code clearly and sensitively to their employees and job seekers.PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamed has weighed in on an incident in which a part-time promoter was allegedly told by Tangs department store to remove her hijab in order to work on its premises, saying that employers should be thoughtful of the policies and practices they set, including inclusivity at their workplaces. 

In a Facebook post on Wednesday (Aug 19) evening, Mr Zaqy urged employers to regularly review these policies and take into consideration the views and sensitivities of their stakeholders, such as their employees, customers and business partners.

“The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP) makes it clear that recruitment and hiring are to be based on merit and the ability to perform the job," he said.

"Religious attire should generally be allowed at workplaces, unless employers have uniform, or dress code requirements which are suited to the nature of their work, or for operational and safety reasons."

He added that it is important for employers to communicate their uniform policy or dress code clearly and sensitively to their employees and job seekers.

Ms Nurin Jazlina Mahbob, 20, a part-time handbag promoter working at a pop-up booth on the second floor of Tangs, said she was asked by staff of the department store to remove her head scarf, just minutes into her first day on the job.

The incident on July 29, was widely shared after Ms Jazlina's employer, who had rented the booth at Tangs, posted about it on Instagram.

Speaking to The Straits Times on Wednesday evening, Ms Jazlina applauded Mr Zaqy's statement on Facebook.

"It's nice to know that he is looking into the issue and taking it seriously because it has been an issue for quite a while now. Other female Muslims donning the tudung have also spoken up about work discrimination," she said.

Ms Jazlina told ST two female Tangs managers approached and told her that she could not work in the store with a tudung on, as the company did not allow staff to wear any headgear.

She said her employer, who only wanted to be known as Ms Chin, stood up for her immediately.

"Ms Chin told them that they were being discriminatory towards me and questioned why I couldn't wear my tudung while working. She also said it was absurd of them to tell me to remove my tudung on the spot since I came with it on," said Ms Jazlina.

She said the Tangs managers told her it was "for the sake of professionalism".

Ms Jazlina also said she was told that there were many Malay employees working in Tangs who remove their tudung while working.

"Her tone implied that if I wanted to continue working there, I had to do as she asked. As much as I do understand and respect the house rules of each company, asking me to remove my tudung in public is a personal insult. Wearing a tudung is not only required by my religion, it is also a symbol of my modesty," she said.

While Ms Jazlina was allowed to keep her tudung on for the rest of the day, she was raised as an example of not meeting Tangs' grooming standard to other part-time promoters during a briefing.

She said the briefing was conducted around 30 minutes into her shift by a retail supervisor with two other promoters present.

In response to queries, a spokesman for Tangs said: "Asking anyone to remove their religious headscarf immediately is offensive, and we would never do so."

She said the two employees had approached Ms Chin to remind her of the store's guidelines. Tangs did not specify what those guidelines were.

"But unfortunately, our reminders were received negatively. We meant no harm and bore no ill will when we reiterated our guidelines," the spokesman said, adding that the store has reached out to Ms Chin to apologise and clarify its intention.

The Tangs spokesman also said its corporate office colleagues and back of house employees wear religious headgear, and they plan to standardise this practice across the stores for all.

When contacted, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) referred ST to Mr Zaqy's Facebook post.

Ms Chin, who goes by anastasiabyraine on Instagram, said she was disappointed by the treatment Ms Jazlina had received.

"What bothered me was the insensitive and demanding way the staff treated my part-timer. They did not empathise," Ms Chin said.

Additional reporting by Jessie Lim