Malaysia: UNI MLC achieves win for Women Muslim Workers in Hotel Industry
UNI is set to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United Kingdom later this June. Yet, we cannot forget that even as advances were made, the struggle for gender equality in all aspects of life is a perpetual one. To date, the labour movements everywhere are concerned about securing the rights of women in the workplace in terms of equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities for advancement and more merit-based representation at the senior management level. However, some of our brethren and sisters in some places still have to contend with antiquated attitudes that undermine women’s independence and autonomy over their bodies.
This was exactly the case in Malaysia where in recent months UNI MLC received a number of complaints of discrimination from many Muslim women employees in the hotel industry. The key culprits was a group of key members belonging to the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), one of the three major hotel industry associations, who collectively insisted that it was international practice to prohibit their Muslim women staff from wearing headscarves, also known as the hijab or tudung in local parlance, while at work. This affected many of those in frontline positions; including those seeking internships.
UNI MLC, under the direction of Brother Datuk Mohamed Shafie, sought to verify the violations by conducting a randomized survey among female hotel employees. They discovered that as many as 28 hotels (as of January 2018) had actively prohibited their female Muslim staff from wearing the headscarf at work. The results obviously indicate that this was an industry wide issue and cannot be explained away as isolated incidents.
With evidence in hand, the UNI MLC made it a public issue in early November 2017. They called for the hotel managements to scrap this questionable practice, and urged the Ministry of Human Resources to intervene. The MAH took the lead on defending the prohibition by justifying that it has always been part of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of international 4-5 star hotel chains. The issue once public, was also taken up by NGOs and even the Employers’ Federation got involved. Most were sympathetic to the plight of the workers and called the MAH out for their discriminatory practice.
The Malaysian government, to their kudos, responded promptly. The Labour Department Peninsular Malaysia of the Ministry of Human Resources convened a series of multi-stakeholders meeting to address the issue. It was attended by UNI MLC, Malaysian Trade Union Congress, Malaysian Employers Federation, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, and the Ministry of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government. The level of participation reflected the seriousness of all concerned parties. However, the MAH failed to turn up for the meetings. Their consistent and conspicuous absence rendered the efforts almost meaningless since there was no industry interlocutor to dialogue with.
UNI MLC, together with other NGOs and concerned bodies, redoubled its efforts to speak out against the practice perpetuated by the MAH members. Brother Datuk Shafie said MAH’s position “disrespected Malaysia as a majority-Muslim country” and challenged MAH to show proof of the SOP as claimed by them. The continuous pressure gained traction and state authorities such as the Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) of Negri Sembilan decided to not issue or renew the license of a hotel which discriminates against Muslim women staff from wearing their headscarf at work. The Labour Department also met with UNI MLC again on January 17 and decided that an Implementation and Monitoring Action Committee will be set up to deal with issues of workplace discrimination.
The hotel associations were finally forced to recognize the probable impact on their businesses should they carry on their discriminatory practice. On 8th February, a signing ceremony took place between the three major hotel associations and the Human Resources Ministry. They pledged to refrain from implementing any policies that bars Muslim women staff from wearing the tudung (headscarves) at the workplace. Brother Shafie, representing UNI MLC, was on hand to witness this breakthrough.
UNI Apro’s Regional Secretary, Christopher Ng, said, “I am very appreciative of the efforts made by Bro Shafie and UNI MLC for taking on the leading advocacy role in ensuring that the rights of Muslim women employees are recognized and protected. This is a very inspiring example and I hope it gives the right signal to other employers to also follow suit”.
Sister Mirah Sumirat, President of UNI APRO Women Committee, offered her congratulations to Bro Shafie and UNI MLC for their success in fighting for women Muslim to get their rights in practicing their religion in the form of wearing the hijab at the workplace. She said, "The struggle of UNI MLC is very inspiring for the women in other parts of the world. We understand that this struggle is not easy. By hard work, commitment and consistency finally it leads to the success. Tahniah!"
UNI Apro congratulates UNI MLC for achieving a historic win!