Hotels May Not Ban Hijabs on Staff, Malaysia Tourism Minister Says

Ray Sherman
Kuala Lumpur
17116-MY-hijab-620.jpg Muslim women wait for a bus at the end of their workday in Kuala Lumpur, Sept. 19, 2016.

Malaysia’s tourism minister on Thursday warned hotels that allegedly ban women from wearing hijabs while working the front desk to immediately drop the policy, which has caused an uproar.

The matter came to light after the Union Network International-Malaysia Labor Center (UNI-MLC) earlier this month revealed it had received complaints from female hotel employees who said they had been prohibited from wearing headscarves while manning the front desk.

According to UNI-MLC, students in hospitality and tourism courses had also been told to remove their hijabs during internships or face not being hired after finishing.

“To any hotels that made these conditions, they should revoke them or face action by us,” Tourism Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz told journalists.

The policy, Nazri said, affects workers from other faiths as well.

“This is not just about Muslims. The Punjabis and Sikhs wear turbans. This is unconstitutional,” he said.

Malaysia is home to about 19.5 million Muslims, who make up approximately 60 percent of the country’s 32 million people. Buddhists, Hindus and Christians account for most of the rest.

On Wednesday, Malaysian Housing, Local Government and Urban Well-being Minister Noh Omar ordered local councils to take action against hotel operators who bar their Muslim staff from wearing headscarves.

“I am ordering all local authorities responsible for issuing such hotel licenses, if the complaints received are true, I recommend they withdraw licenses issued,” he said, adding hotel licenses come under the jurisdiction of local councils.

‘What matters to them is good treatment’

Days earlier, in response to UNI-MLC’s statement, Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) president Samuel Cheah Swee Hee was quoted in local media saying the ban had been in place for a long time.

“This policy is practiced in international hotel chains that use the same standard operating procedure (SOP) on uniforms in all hotels in their chain, globally.

“The problem is, everyone wants to join the five-star global hotel brand, but they do not want to follow the uniform policy that is their worldwide standard,” he said, according to The Star.

Cheah urged Muslim employees who wish to wear hijabs to consider not working at the front desk or work at a hotel that allows the headscarf as part of its uniform.

A hotelier at an international hotel in Kuala Lumpur who asked to remain anonymous condemned Cheah’s statement.

“What a statement from Cheah Swee Hee, there’s no such thing. As far we know, a hijab ban is not a part of international SOP that hotels should be concerned with,” she told BenarNews on Wednesday.

Wan Salim Mohd Noor, the mufti or chief Islamic scholar for the state of Penang, said most hotel guests do not care if an employee wears a hijab.

“What matters to them is good treatment from those on duty. We urge hotel management to be more rational and not discriminate workers based on their attire. What should be taken into account is their capability to do their work well,” he told BenarNews.

Lawyers for Liberty Executive Director Eric Paulsen said the ban was discriminatory, and dress code by hotel chains should not be overly restrictive.

“Turban, tudung [hijab] and other forms of reasonable dress sense should be allowed. Of course, the hotel still has a right to maintain an overall policy on how their staff should look and dress, but the restrictions should be reasonable,” he said.

Fairuz Mazlan in Penang and Hadi Azmi contributed to this report.


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