Singapore department store Tangs will now allow its frontline staff and promoters to don the hijab starting today, TODAY reported.
In a statement on Friday (21 August), Tangs said that it will extend “the flexibility” of wearing religious headgear to its frontline staff and brand partners.
Employees in the store’s corporate office and back-of-house are already allowed to do so, the store noted.
“As a Singaporean company with a diverse, and multi-racial workforce, we must respect cultural and religious practices and requirements on all accounts.
“We have made an immediate change to ensure a policy that uniformly respects all our employees and our brand partners,” said Tangs.
The store’s announcement came on the heels of backlash from the public regarding an incident involving pop-up booth promoter Nurin Jazlina Mahbob, who was allegedly asked by two managers to remove her headscarf to continue working.
Many commenters have also expressed their intention to boycott the store as a result of the incident.
Three Malay-Muslim Members of Parliament (MPs) also released separate statements on the issue.
Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad implored employers to be “thoughtful of the policies and practices they set, including inclusivity at their workplaces”.
“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,” he added.
Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP Saktiandi Supaat, Member of Parliament 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 will “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”.
Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Nadia Samdin said that Ms Nurin’s case was “disheartening to read”.
She commended Ms Chin “for standing by her part-timer, Ms Nurin, and bringing this issue to light”.
President Halimah Yacob, who was earlier criticised for her purported silence on the matter, said yesterday that discrimination “of any form and against anyone has no place at all in our society and, most certainly, not at the workplace”.
“People should be assessed solely on their merits and their ability to do a job and nothing else. Discrimination at the workplace is particularly disturbing because it deprives the person affected from earning a living.
“During this COVID-19 period when concerns over jobs and livelihoods are greater, incidents of discrimination exacerbate anxieties and people feel threatened.
“Diversity is our strength and our society has already embraced it. I hope that employers too will fully embrace diversity at the workplace and do their part to uphold the values of a fair and open society,” said Mdm Halimah.
Background of the incident
The incident was first made known publicly when the business owner, who identified herself as Ms Chin when speaking to TODAY, posted Instagram stories regarding the 29 July incident on her business account anastasiabyraine.
Ms Chin told TODAY that when she asked the Tangs staff members for an explanation behind asking Ms Nurin to remove her hijab, they responded that it was for ‘professionalism-sake’.
“Why can’t you wear a hijab and be professional? I found that ridiculous and felt the need to call them out,” she said.
Ms Chin added that other than an all-black dress code, she was not alerted to other guidelines on promoters’ attire at the time she was setting up her booth.
Noting that Tangs conducted a briefing on 27 July — the day her booth commenced operations — Ms Chin said that the briefing was attended by one of her other part-time staff members working the same day and the following day.
She stressed that such information must be conveyed not only to “anyone present and take it as a record that they have done their part”, but also to business owners.
Tangs, however, told TODAY that its staff members had informed Ms Chin’s of the store’s rules but “our reminders were received negatively”.
“We meant no harm and bore no ill will when we reiterated our guidelines,” said the store.
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.”
Noting that Tangs is currently cooperating with investigations into the matter, a spokesperson for the store told TODAY that “asking anyone to remove their religious headscarf immediately is offensive and we would never do so”.
TODAY noted that Ms Nurin was handed a copy of the store’s guidelines after the incident took place.
The “grooming standard” includes promoters wearing a black polo T-shirt and black long pants if the business they are employed by does not provide uniforms. Promoters were also prohibited from wearing religious headgear or accessories.
According to TODAY, Tafep is currently engaging both the business owner and the promoter, particularly for the latter to “come forward and provide more information on the incident”.
“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 stressed.
Tangs confirmed on Tuesday (18 August) that the employment watchdog had contacted the store on 11 August.
Ms Nurin, 20, told TODAY that two managers who had allegedly told her to do so did not allow her to “speak up”.
“They just kept saying I couldn’t work there wearing my hijab because it’s against their guidelines,” said the recent Temasek Polytechnic graduate. Ms Nurin holds a diploma in apparel design and merchandising.
Hijab is an Arabic term which means “barrier”. In Malay, it is known as tudung. It is a “headscarf” or “veil” often worn by Muslim girls and women to cover their hair, necks and chests as a means to demonstrate piety to God.
Mainstream interpretations of Islamic dress code suggest that hijab is only obligatory for Muslim girls upon reaching puberty, which usually takes place in their early- or mid-teen years. However, some Muslim parents enforce the tudung on their daughters at an earlier age.
There are also many Muslim women who begin wearing the hijab past puberty out of their personal will after making a personal hijrah–a form of spiritual migration or transformation.