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Nestle accused of discrimination by Sikh truck driver after he was allegedly denied entry for not wearing hard hat

A turban-wearing Sikh truck driver claims that he was not allowed to enter Nestlé’s distribution centre in Altona in Melbourne’s west after he refused to wear a hard hat. While Mr Singh alleges discrimination, Nestle says wearing a hard hat is mandatory for health and safety reasons.

A Sikh truck driver claims he was refused entry into Nestlé’s delivery centre in Altona, in Melbourne’s west for refusing to wear a safety hard hat.

“I was denied entry today morning at 5AM [8 Oct], but not that it happened before,” said the driver who wished to be identified by his surname Singh only.

“I was told that if I wish to pick a delivery I will need to remove my turban and put a safety net and then a hard hat on top of it,” Mr Singh who is a devout Sikh said.

“They must understand that turban is not just a piece of cloth, or a cap or a hat that you could frequently remove and put back.”

Mr Singh said that he is willing to meet the requirements by putting a hard hat that fits his turban size. 

"I wonder why they are forcing this blunt policy. Why cant they provide us custom-made hard hats that fit our needs rather than asking us to remove our turbans," he says. 

Nestlé has told SBS Punjabi that it will review the alleged incident.

“If an employee or visitor, for medical or religious reasons, cannot wear appropriate protective headwear, they cannot enter the area,” it said in a statement. 

Truck
Image used for representation purpose only.
Pexels

Mr Singh said that he works for a service provider company who has a delivery contract in place with Nestlé’s Altona-based distribution centre.

“My service provider is very co-operative and inclusive of everyone. They’ve tried to intervene but they said there is a limit to what they can do in this case.”

Mr Singh said that he is surprised by the ‘new’ decision as he never had to face this issue before.

“We are just delivery people doing our routine driving job. I don’t know why this fuss is created now,” he added.

There is no heavy-lifting or anything dangerous pertaining to this job. We are supposed to park our truck in the loading bay and stay in their safe zone until the truck is loaded from the rear side before we drive-away.

Mr Singh claims the drivers don’t enter an 'active' work zone, hence says they shouldn’t be subjected to the safety rules.

“I feel there is something more to this story. These restrictions prevent turban-wearing drivers from doing their jobs,” he said. 

Singh turban
Mr Singh says he is not willing to ‘compromise’ with his Sikh identity and principles.
Supplied

Mr Singh says that it's not an isolated incident but a generic problem with the Sikh drivers working at different workplaces.

“Somebody has to take a stand whenever something is not being done right and put it right," he added.

Speaking generally about the trucking industry, Mr Singh said, “I am firm in my belief that I am fighting for a cause and not just an isolated incident.”

I am aware that there are other turban-wearing Sikh truck drivers who are also in a similar situation at other workplaces.

Mr Singh said that the incident has left him ‘badly shaken and disappointed’.

“Turban has a religious significance, and my self-conscience doesn’t allow me to compromise as it is a matter of prestige for both me and my community.”

Mr Singh said he is aware that turban-wearing truck drivers are allowed to do delivery jobs in a number of workplaces including supermarkets. 

Inside view of a factory warehouse
Inside view of a factory warehouse - image for representation purposes only.
Pexels

Meanwhile, Nestlé has told SBS Punjabi that they will review the alleged incident.

“Nestlé is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all of our employees and visitors to our sites. We believe that all accidents are preventable through effectively managing risk,” it said in a statement.

“We regularly review any potential health and safety risks across our sites.

“Following a number of head injury related incidents across Nestlé sites globally, we examined all aspects of operations, including the delivery and dispatch of goods from sites. It was identified that the loading/unloading process, including the activity of securing loads, posed increased risk of head related injuries.

“In an attempt to reduce the likelihood of harm to both employees and visitors, in consultation with WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWork NSW, we made the decision to mandate the use of protective headwear in the loading/unloading bays at all distribution centres in August 2017.

“Where a risk has been identified, it is our responsibility to ensure we manage the risk effectively – in this case through the use of protective headwear.

If an employee or visitor, for medical or religious reasons, cannot wear appropriate protective headwear, they cannot enter the area. 

“Under no circumstances can protective headwear be used in conjunction with any other item or product that may compromise or inhibit its effectiveness.

“These requirements have been communicated to all of our employees and transport suppliers. 

Nestle

Jang Bahadur Singh Pannu who is the secretary of Victorian Sikh Gurdwara Council said that it is a ‘serious matter’ that needs urgent attention.

“I got to know about this issue after reading a discussion on social media. We understand that many truck drivers are adversely affected due to this issue on an ongoing basis,” he said.

“We don’t know if this is an act of discrimination or it is just ignorance or has a reasonable background from health and safety perspective.”

Mr Singh said that the turban is an integral part of Sikh identity.

"We have a spiritual connection with the turban. It’s an inseparable part of Sikhs. It’s a symbol of self-respect, spirituality and integrity,” he added.

“It is difficult to wear hard hats over the turbans so we need to find a better way to address this issue, and we at VSGC are happy to mediate like we’ve done in the past to resolve this matter.” 

Sikh Turban
Mr Pannu said that the turban is an integral part of Sikh identity.
Supplied

Mr Pannu said it is important to understand the sensitivity of the issue from a business point of view as well.

“We know that the construction industry, factory warehouses and yards like any other businesses have a duty of care towards the health and general well-being of the workers,” he said.

“But we urge them to find a balance between the health and safety and the right of workers to practise their religious beliefs.”

Mr Pannu said that the community don’t want to see a situation where people wearing turbans are denied jobs just for the reasons that they wear turbans.

SBS Punjabi has contacted Worksafe for a comment.

It is reported that there’re exemptions in UK for wearing turbans instead of hard hats at workplaces like the construction industry.    

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