WORKPLACE bans on the hijab, the Muslim headscarf, are legal provided a prohibition already exists on employees wearing “any political, philosophical or religious sign,” says the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Its ruling means that women can be dismissed for wearing the hijab as long as a similar provision applies to workers sporting other symbols, including crucifixes, skullcaps and turbans.
The ECJ, which interprets European Union law to ensure uniformity across the bloc, is primarily concerned with preventing breaches of free market competition.
This results in regular outlawing of practices deployed by trade unions and/or authorities within member states to defend minimum workplace standards.
The Viking, Ruffert, Laval and Luxembourg decisions handed down in recent years by the ECJ have caused problems for unions in defending collectively won rights.
The court’s tendency to side with employers’ “right to manage” is tempered in the hijab decision by its perceived duty to prevent discrimination.
So it referred hijab cases back to French and Belgian courts for further consideration.
The ECJ suggested that Samira Achbita, who was sacked by security company G4S in Belgium for wearing a headscarf, could have been employed in a nonpublic capacity.
Similarly, it asserted that Asma Bougnaoui, who lost her job at French firm Micropole after a customer complaint about her appearance, ought not to have been dismissed on “subjective considerations.”
The court’s determination to confine itself to legal detail ignores the political reality that the cases referred to it reflect a growing climate of Islamophobia in the EU.
The ECJ is not overwhelmed by complaints of religious discrimination by Christians sacked for wearing a crucifix, Jews for their kippah or Sikhs for their turban.
A “universal” ban on all religious symbols is not comprehensive if only one section of society is under attack.
It is open season on Muslims for bigots intent on driving them from the world of paid labour by demanding that they eschew clothing they feel expresses their religious identity.
The ECJ is effectively condoning the Islamophobic offensive by justifying it if a theoretical prohibition applies equally to symbols linked to other religions.
Both the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights have already authorised state governments to ban public employees from wearing religious symbols, but this latest judgement extends such authority to private companies.
It could precipitate a wave of further bans on the Muslim headscarf across the EU, all shrouded in the falsely neutral veneer of a comprehensive ban on religious symbols.
Such camouflaged Islamophobia already holds sway in a number of EU member states, having sailed under the false flag of republican secularism in France since 2004.
Secularism is about separation of state and religion while guaranteeing freedom of worship for all faiths.
It is not supposed to impose non-religious norms on religious people, especially when one specific community is under sustained attack by bigots and regime change advocates.
Some Muslim women have even come under attack for wearing beachwear apparel that doesn’t reveal their bodies as much as other people believe they should.
What ever happened to live and let live? Workers’ clothing should only be questioned if it presents a health and safety problem.
Too many trade unionists in Britain have had problems with employers over wanting to wear their union badge, anti-racist or other equality symbols at work.
Trade unionists should be first in line to defend workmates who fall foul of this legally tolerated discrimination and stand by the maxim that an injury to one is an injury to all.