LAST_UPDATEFri, 20 Jul 2018 4pm

After Hijab Ban In Hotels, Shocking Confessions From Employees Reveal Religious Discrimination That Prohibits Them From Praying

Malaysians were dumbfounded to have discovered that the local hotel industry are guilty of discriminatory practises, when it was revealed that some female employees were banned from donning the hijab.

This led to the Ministry of Human Resources (MOHR) to identify 13 out of 88 hotels in Peninsular Malaysia, prohibiting their female employees donning the hijab during working hours.

Following the uproar, three hotel associations - the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners (MAHO) and the Malaysia Budget Hotel Association (MYBHA) – have pledged to end the hijab ban policy, and hence forth provide a glimmer of hope for women in the industry.

But Malaysian Digest recently sat down with former and current employees in the hotel industry and found that the religious discrimination that exists within the industry goes beyond donning the hijab.

Hotel Employees Recount Their Woes

While Najwa Sakinah professed that some of her female colleagues were forced to remove their hijab during working hours, she lamented that the discrimination against hijab-donning ladies starts during the interview phase.

“When I went to an interview at a five-star hotel located in Jalan Ampang, the interviewers asked me to remove my hijab as they wanted to see if I looked ‘decent’,” the former receptionist at a budget hotel recalled.

“But when I refused to oblige, they mentioned that the local hotel industry adheres to international standards first and foremost, and that the industry has no room to accommodate to any religious obligations.”

As shocking as the statement may be, 26-year-old Ayesha Dania revealed that another five-star hotel in Bukit Bintang prohibited her from praying as her supervisor stated that the hotel is understaffed.

However, the housekeeper pointed out that the hotel employed over 100 housekeepers, with majority of them being non-Muslims, and questioned why performing her religious obligations for 10 minutes is disallowed.

But difficulties in praying was not limited to female employees only, as Omar Saiful communicated that he too found it difficult to perform his prayers during his two-month tenure at a five-star hotel in Jalan Pinang.

“It was hard for me to perform my prayers on time, and sometimes I can’t perform my prayers at all as it clashes with lunchtime serving – where all kitchen staffs are required to be on standby,” the former cook sighed.

“And apart from missing my Zohor prayers (midday prayers), I’ve missed performing my Friday prayers too because my supervisor said we’re understaffed and told me ‘You can’t leave’.”

Aside from the insufficient praying time, Aadryan Loh, tendered his resignation after a four-star hotel he was working in, in Jalan Ampang, asked him to work during Ramadhan, without giving him time to break his fast and perform his prayers.

“Just because I look Chinese, my former employers assumed that I wouldn’t mind working during ‘breaking fast’, which is why I can’t perform my Maghrib prayers (after sunset prayers) on time, delay breaking my fast and sometimes delay performing my Tarawih.

“But when I conveyed these issues to my head chef, he questioned why should I be too concerned when I don’t look like a Muslim,” the 26-year-old described and added that some hotels are inconsiderate when planning out their employees’ schedule and rotation.

Union Urges Employees To Know Their Rights And Speak Up

While these accounts have been personally relayed to Malaysian Digest, speaking with the president of Union Network International-Malaysia Labour Centre (UNI-MLC) Datuk Mohamed Shafie BP Mammal, he shared that at this point of time the union has only received complaints regarding the hijab ban.

“We don’t deny that some hotel employees have encountered difficulties to perform their prayers during working hours, and Friday prayers,” the president noted.

“But because we have yet to receive any official complaint or report, we can’t act on it.”

However, Mohamed Shafie clarified that there are two environments to the hotel industry in Malaysia and emphasised that they govern how policies at each hotel is outlined.

“The first is that some hotels are unionised, where they are represented by an outsourced or insourced union or association.

“The second is non-unionised hotels, in which they represent themselves via groups and forums.”

For unionised hotels, the president clarified that a Collective Binding Agreement (CBA) – which has been discussed and agreed between employees and management, prior having the court legalise the document – stipulates that a hotel must provide sufficient time for Muslim employees to perform their prayers.

In the event that the hotel management fails to enforce these agreements, then the action is regarded as non-compliance.

“When such cases occur, employees are urged to relay their concern to their respective associations, the labour department and even UNI-MLC so that an investigation can be conducted,” he advised.

“One of the main factors that contribute to employees keeping mum is the fact that they aren’t aware of their rights or perhaps they aren’t sure whom they should channel their complaints too.”

Referring to the hijab ban case, the president opined that employees should be educated on their rights, whilst emphasising that enforcement is immensely needed to ensure that what is stated in the CBA is exercised.

“Enforcement is needed at every level, and every section of the hotel industry.

“The internal HR department and the upper management should always make enquiries to ensure that the employees’ rights are not being abused, and subsequently finding ways on how the hotel and management can be improved,” he stressed.

This Is How Hotels In Dubai Prioritise Religion

With our local hotel industry being plagued with such distasteful predicaments, Malaysian Digest wondered if other Muslim hotel employees hailing from other Muslims countries too, faced the same religious discrimination in their workplace.

Under the promise of anonymity, we spoke with the Human Resource Manager of Anantara the Palm Dubai Resort, who stressed that the hotel regards religious obligations as the utmost priority.

“The hotels in Dubai are very particular of religious convenience – from ensuring the guests have access to the musallah (surau) to ensuring that each employee is given sufficient breaks to perform their prayers,” he emphasised.

“Because the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a Muslim country, the hotel industry outlines their policies according to the Islamic teachings first before referring to the international standards.”

On that note, Malaysian Digest relayed the woes of Malaysian hotel employees to the HR manager, who then highlighted how the five-star hotel addresses each of the predicaments as per their policies.

In regards to female employees donning the hijab, the Emirati revealed that the hotel does not restrict their female employees from donning the hijab, but also mentioned that they do not force their employees to cover their hair.

“Since 2005, more employers of various industries have welcomed hijab-donning women into their respective companies as the basic legislation of the UAE is based on the Sharia law.

“As such, when a Muslim woman wears the hijab, no one has the right to prevent her from working, harass her or fire her for wearing it,” the HR manager shared.

Moving on to prayer time, the manager with over two decades of hospitality experience under his belt conveyed that the HR department is trained to schedule, supervise and ensure that all employees are allocated sufficient time to rest and perform their prayers.

As he emphasised that the practise is applicable to all staffs of all religions, he noted that the same practise is similarly being applied for leave applications, holiday seasons and the month of Ramadhan.

“Assuming that there are four receptionists during the day shift, and three of them are Muslims – all three of them are not permitted to take their breaks simultaneously as there must be at least two employees attending the reception area at all times,” he clarified.

“As such, the HR department and respective managers will schedule their breaks by outlining that each break slots are for two people at a time.

“However in the event an employee seeks to only perform their prayers, then the employee is given a 15-minute break to perform their prayers and the manager will sit in for them.”

When asked about male employees performing their Friday prayers, the HR manager said that the hotel ceases operation to accommodate to their male employees’ religious obligation.

But their thorough planning and organisation goes beyond the employees’ schedule and rotation, as the HR manager relayed that the hotel employs a balanced number of male and female employees, as well as Muslim and non-Muslim employees.

“In doing so, it ensures that the hotel is never understaffed during peak seasons, aside from ensuring that the hotel has sufficient number of male employees attending to male guests and vice versa – especially at the spa.

“Put it this way: Muslim guests are required to produce their marriage certificates when checking-in at hotels, so rest assured that the hotels here are immensely particular of religious restrictions and obligations,” he quipped.

And speaking of religious restrictions, the HR manager highlighted that the task of mending the pork and alcohol stations are reserved solely for non-Muslim employees.

“Like it or not, most of our hotels serve alcohol and pork as a gesture of acceptance, respect and hospitality towards our non-Muslim guests,” he acknowledged.

“So we do our best to please our Muslim and non-Muslim employees and patrons, and subsequently showing that a multi-religious industry or workplace is possible if you put more effort in planning whilst listening to your employees.”

Hotels Must First Look At Local Demographics When Drafting Policies

Upon understanding how hotels in Dubai draft their policies, Malaysian Digest queried the MOHR and found that the ministry is totally against religious discrimination within any industry.

Speaking specifically on the hotel industry, a representative communicated that hotels should first study (and understand) the local demographics prior drafting their policies.

“Because Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, the hotels should’ve ensured that the policies don’t oppose the Islamic teachings – and in this case, a woman’s choice in donning the hijab.

“While it’s not mandatory (by law) for Muslim women to don the hijab in Malaysia, this shouldn’t serve as a loophole for hotels to manipulate the policies and abuse their power,” the representative opined.

However, the representative elaborated that because hotels are parked under the private sector in Malaysia, some hotels and associations are guilty of drafting their policies without referring to the guidelines provided by the ministry.

“Be that as it may, hotels should refer and adhere to the guidelines provided by the ministry to ensure that workers' rights are not discriminated against,” the representative advised.

In fact, the representative relayed that the ministry received a string of complaints regarding religious discrimination from various associations, which has then encouraged three hotel associations to forego the ban on hijab.

With the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners (MAHO) and Malaysia Budget Hotel Association (MyBHA) representing more than 3,000 hotels throughout Malaysia, the representative assured that the ministry remains adamant in preserving the rights of every employee, and hoped that the issue will not arise again.

While the ministry has addressed the issue concerning the hijab ban, the representative lamented that ministry has yet to look into other acts of religious discrimination.

“It’s unfortunate that such acts of religious discrimination happened under our noses, and even more disappointing that some employees are not aware of their rights,” the representative pointed out.

“Therefore I’d like every Muslim employee to know that being prohibited from performing your religious duties is completely unacceptable, and it’s best for you to lodge a complaint.”

On that note, the representative urged employees with grievances to channel their woes to call +603 8000 8000, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., write to Facebook and Twitter, or their official website here.

- Malaysian Digest