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Tafep investigating incident at Tangs dept store where promoter at pop-up booth was told to remove hijab

SINGAPORE — The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) is looking into an incident involving a part-time promoter at a pop-up booth. The promoter was allegedly told by Tangs department store to remove her hijab — a Muslim headscarf covering the head and chest — in order to be allowed to work on its premises.

Tangs said that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices contacted the store and it is cooperating with investigations.

Tangs said that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices contacted the store and it is cooperating with investigations.

  • A part-time promoter was allegedly told by Tangs that she has to take off her hijab to be allowed to continue working
  • She was allowed to wear her hijab for the rest of the day but her employer was told to clear the pop-up booth
  • A Tangs spokesperson said that its employees would “never” ask anyone to remove their religious headscarf immediately
  • It acknowledged a lapse in its communication with the business owner regarding the store’s guidelines
  • A Tafep spokesperson said that it is looking into the matter with Tangs’ assistance

 

SINGAPORE — The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) is looking into an incident involving a part-time promoter at a pop-up booth. The promoter was allegedly told by Tangs department store to remove her hijab — a Muslim headscarf covering the head and chest — in order to be allowed to work on its premises.

Instagram user anastasiabyraine, who was the business owner taking up the booth to sell handmade leather bags, had put up Instagram stories on the incident that took place on July 29. Screenshots of the posts were taken by other social media users and went viral.

Speaking to TODAY, the 36-year-old business owner, who wanted to be known only as Ms Chin, said that she felt the need to call out the “ridiculous” demand on her part-time employee. 

The employee, Ms Nurin Jazlina Mahbob, 20, told TODAY that shortly after she started her shift on her first day at work, she was approached by two managers from Tangs who allegedly told her that she has to take off her hijab to be allowed to work at the pop-up booth.

While Ms Nurin was allowed to keep her hijab on for the rest of the day, following an exchange that drew the attention of nearby shoppers, Ms Chin received a phone text message from the store telling her that she had to clear her booth. The original agreement was that the booth was supposed to run for three weeks until Aug 13.

In response to queries, Tangs said on Tuesday (Aug 18) that Tafep contacted the store on Aug 11 and it is cooperating with the investigations.

A spokesperson from Tangs said that its staff members would “never” ask anyone to remove their religious headscarf immediately.

On the day of the incident, its staff members had reminded Ms Chin of the store’s guidelines. “But unfortunately, our reminders were received negatively. We meant no harm and bore no ill will when we reiterated our guidelines,” the spokesperson said, adding that the store has reached out to Ms Chin to clarify its intent.

The spokesperson added: “As a company with a diverse and multi-racial workforce, we share the same principles as Ms Chin, and asking anyone to remove their religious headscarf immediately is offensive and we would never do so.”

On the other hand, Ms Chin said that she was not informed of the guidelines. She was told only about a rule on an all-black attire when she was setting up her booth before its first day of operations on July 27.

While Tangs had held a briefing on July 27, it was attended by another of her part-timers who was just working that day and the next.

“All information should be relayed to the owners of the label, not merely to anyone present and take it as a record that they have done their part,” Ms Chin said.

After the incident, Ms Nurin was given a copy of the guidelines, which include a “grooming standard” that stipulates that promoters have to wear a black polo T-shirt and black long pants if their firm does not have uniforms. They are also not allowed to wear religious headgear or accessories.

The Tangs spokesperson acknowledged a lapse in its communication with Ms Chin regarding the guidelines.

“As part of our onsite partner induction process, we provide dress code, decorum and other useful guidelines to personnel of our partners. In this instance, unfortunately, our standard operating procedure was not followed. We will look into this and remedial action will be taken.” 

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.” 

TAFEP’S STANCE

On her part, Ms Chin claimed that the Tangs employees were speaking to Ms Nurin “in such a demanding tone”.

“I asked them for the rationale behind her having to remove her hijab. They said it's 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.”

Ms Nurin, who recently graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a diploma in apparel design and merchandising, emphasised that she was told she needed to remove her hijab in order to continue working.

“They didn't even let me speak up. They just kept saying I couldn’t work there wearing my hijab because it's against their guidelines.” 

Responding to TODAY’s queries, a Tafep spokesperson said that it is looking into the matter with Tangs’ assistance. It is reaching out to Ms Chin and is also encouraging Ms Nurin to “come forward and provide more information on the incident”.

Tafep reiterated 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.

In 2016, a similar incident made headlines after a Facebook post by Ms Sharifah Begum was widely circulated. In her post, Ms Sharifah said she was told that she could not wear a hijab when she applied for the role of administrative assistant at a private preschool operator.

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