Tangs U-turns on company attire policy after Malay politicians and public outcry; all employees may soon be allowed to wear religious headgear

All employees at Tangs – both backend and front liners – may soon be allowed to wear religious headgear while working. 

In response to media queries on Wednesday (19 Aug), a Tangs spokesperson said: “Our corporate office colleagues, and back of house employees wear religious headgear, and we plan to standardise this practice across the stores for all.”

This comes after public backlash over an incident where a part-timer promoter at a pop-up booth at the department store was instructed to remove her hijab. 

Part-time promoter was allegedly demanded to remove hijab on the spot; vendor told to clear pop-up booth at the end of the day

On 29 July, two Tangs managers approached Nurin Jazlina Mahbob and allegedly told her to take off her hijab immediately.

According to Raine Chin, the vendor running the pop-up booth, who shared the incident on the same day on a Facebook post, she said it was apparently for “professionalism-sake”.

Some of the other rules included not having dyed hair, which Ms Chin has.

Since then, Tangs has said through the spokesperson on 18 Aug that it would “never” ask anyone to immediately remove their religious headscarf.

“As a company with a diverse, and multi-racial workforce, we are respectful of cultural and religious practices and requirements and asking anyone to remove their religious headscarf immediately is offensive, and we would never do so.”

However, Ms Chin said that the two managers did not let Nurin speak up and kept insisting that she remove her hijab.

“I think if I didn’t speak up for her at that point in time, I think Nurin would have been forced to remove her tudung, which I really think is unfair for her,” said Ms Chin.

Tangs added that the guidelines for attire were apparently brought up beforehand.

The spokesperson for Tangs said that it usually has an onsite partner induction process, where they provide “dress code, decorum and other useful guidelines to personnel of our partners”.

However, Ms Chin said that these guidelines were not made clear to her. 

She said that there was only a casual briefing for her part-timers on the first and second day on having to wear all-black attires and not being allowed to wear earrings.

Tangs acknowledged that there was a lapse in this instance. 

It said: “In this instance, unfortunately, it was our lapse as we did not follow our standard operating procedure. We have looked into this and remedial action has been taken.”

Eventually, the managers let Nurin keep her hijab on for the rest of the day, but about an hour after Ms Chin left Tangs she received a WhatsApp message from her merchandiser at Tangs to clear her pop-up booth at the end of the day as her vendorship to run the booth from 29 July to 13 August has been terminated. 

On why Ms Chin was asked to clear her booth, the spokesperson said that the store expects its frontline staff members to be “accorded the same dignity and respect that we offer our partners”.

“Given subsequent verbal exchanges (with Ms Chin) that we prefer to keep confidential, we had to come to the unfortunate decision to part ways.” 

Employment Practices Agency has gotten involved and is investigating the matter

A spokesperson for the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) said that it is looking into the matter with Tangs’ assistance. 

It has reached out to Ms Chin and is asking Ms Nurin to “come forward and provide more information on the incident”.

Tafep stressed that all employers are expected to abide by the principles of fair employment practices set out in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.

“Religious attire should generally be allowed at workplaces, unless employers have uniforms or dress code requirements that are suited to the nature of their work, or for operational and safety reasons. Such requirements should then be communicated and explained clearly to employees as well as job applicants,” Tafep said.

Malay politicians have spoken up against the ban of wearing hijabs at the workplace

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad has taken to Facebook to implore “employers (to) be thoughtful of the policies and practices they set, including inclusivity at their workplaces”. 

“I also urge 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.”

He added: “TAFEP shared with me that another major retail store had reviewed its uniform policy to include headgear after receiving feedback from its stakeholders. As for the current case, TAFEP has reached out to the parties involved and is currently looking into this matter.”

Mr Zaqy also told the media that Tafep had told him of another major retail store that reviewed its uniform policy to include religious headgear after receiving feedback from its stakeholders. 

Saktiandi Supaat, Member of Parliament (MP) for Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency (GRC), has also spoken out and said that such incidents “need to be addressed (and) more so in this current economic environment and difficult employment outlook”.

He hopes that all employers “abide strongly” by fair employment practices so that “we come out stronger from this Covid-19 crisis and, at the same time, our Singaporean core workers — regardless of race, language or religion — feel taken care of”.

Nadia Samdin, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said on Facebook as well that discriminatory hiring practices — including those against age, gender, ethnicity or religion — do not have a place in Singapore.

“It was really disheartening to read (about the incident) and I am glad Tafep is addressing it,” she wrote. 

“I also commend the business owner for standing by her part-timer, Ms Nurin, and bringing this issue to light”.

 

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August 2020