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As Sikh drivers continue to be refused entry, Nestle Australia promises to find a solution

Turbaned Sikh drivers continue to be stopped from entering Nestle delivery sites; Nestle has now promised to accommodate their concerns Source: Supplied

Turban-wearing Sikh truck drivers delivering goods to Nestle Australia say they continue to be denied entry into Nestle premises without wearing a hard-hat – something not possible over a turban. Nestle Australia has now told SBS Punjabi, ‘We appreciate that requiring people in some areas of our sites to wear a hard hat creates a difficult situation for Sikh visitors to our site, but we’re keen to find a way to accommodate them.’

Narinder Singh Virk, a truck driver from Melbourne with over 14 years of experience tells SBS Punjabi, “When I had to pick up goods from Nestle’s Sydney warehouse recently, I was not allowed to enter without a hard hat. I offered to wear a hard-hat on top of my patka (much smaller piece of cloth akin to a bandana), but even that was not acceptable to them.” 

As reported by SBS Punjabi earlier, this issue has only surfaced in recent months, whilst the same turban-wearing Sikh drivers did not encounter any such issue earlier while delivering to Nestle. 

Mr Virk says, “Overall 30 to 40 Sikh drivers have been sent back in last 3-4 months.” 

Recounting his most recent experience Mr Virk said his truck company had asked him to pick up a load from Nestlé’s Sydney office, which is why he drove there from Melbourne. 

“Since it was a long-haul I was wearing a smaller 2-meter long turban. When refused entry, I offered to wear a hard hat on top of the small turban, and actually it even fitted properly.” 

“But the security guard said, his manager had clearly instructed him not to allow anyone to wear a hard hat if they wore even a single layer of cloth underneath.” 

“I was bluntly told that no turbans are allowed.” 

“I have been working in the same capacity with many mining companies and they always allowed a hard-hat on top of a small patka (bandana) without any problems’, Mr Virk added. 

He says something similar happened to him in Nestle’s Melbourne office as well. 

“When I drove a delivery to the Nestle’s Melbourne base office, I wasn’t allowed to enter. The security guard told me to remove my turban. When I asked for the reason, the security guard said ‘It was a new law in the company’.” 

“I asked him to give me in writing but the guard refused and pointed me to a notice which was pasted on the back of the door. I took a photo of the note and drove off without making the delivery.” 

When Mr Virk spoke to his transport company, he was asked, ‘why can’t you remove your turban for a single delivery?’ 

A very concerned Mr Virk says, “If this trend continues and other big companies follow Nestle, then Sikh drivers won’t be employed any more”. 

SBS Punjabi raised these concerns again with Nestle Australia this week, who say they recognize the problem and are working on a solution. 

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A spokesperson said, “We appreciate that requiring people in some areas of our sites to wear a hard hat creates a difficult situation for Sikh visitors to our site, but we’re keen to find a way to accommodate them.” 

Nestle says it welcomes suggestions to resolve the matter. 

“As OH&S law doesn’t give us the flexibility to make exceptions to safety controls, including for religious reasons, we must continue to require everyone involved in loading and unloading trucks at our sites to wear a hard hat. We are seeking advice as to whether there might be a way forward that allows both religious and OH&S requirements to be met, and would welcome constructive suggestions.” 

The spokesperson also noted that Nestle operations in other countries allow exemptions for turban-wearing Sikh drivers. 

“While it’s not the case in Australia, we note that in some countries, the law allows exemptions for Sikhs to wear turbans in place of a safety hat. We apply this in our own sites in these countries. We’re aware that members of the Sikh community have raised the question of exemptions to hard hat requirements with Australian government, and believe that out of respect for Sikhs, this warrants consideration.” 

No time frame has been given by Nestle about “accommodating” these concerns. 

SBS Punjabi has contacted WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWork NSW for a clarification on the existing laws in their states about wearing hard hats and possible exemptions. Their responses are awaited.

Meanwhile, the Sikh community has also been very keen to have turban- hard hat issue resolved. 

Mr Virk said, “The community is very supportive. But hardly any turban-wearing drivers have come forward despite suffering this ordeal. I was called to a meeting in Melbourne’s Miri Piri Gurudwara organized by United Sikhs who assured to take up the matter with authorities.” 

“The Victorian Sikh Gurduaras Council is also in touch with me”, he added.

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