• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3
French firm bans Muslim headscarves at work
A French firm claims to have become the first to ban the wearing of religious symbols at work. Photo: AFP

French firm bans Muslim headscarves at work

Joshua Melvin · 11 Feb 2014, 10:16

Published: 11 Feb 2014 10:16 GMT+01:00

From Tuesday onward the 4,000 workers at recycling company Paprec, based in the Parisian suburbs will no longer be allowed to demonstrate their religious faith by wearing items like the Yarmulke/Kippah (the Jewish skullcap), Christian crosses and Muslim head or face covers.

Paprec’s CEO Jean-Luc Petithuguenin said he set the new rules, which he claims are the first of their kind, after four months of negotiations with representatives of the company’s employees. The result was an eight-article agreement that follows closely the principles already laid in French secular laws.

“I am applying the same model that prevails in the public sphere, only I am applying it to a company,” Petithuguenin told AFP. “I am applying the founding principles of the French republic.”

The new restrictions are modeled on France's landmark 2004 law that banned the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in French state schools and other government buildings. Although the law makes no reference to specific symbols many considered it was to specifically target Muslim headscarves.

The crackdown may have caused controversy and provoked headlines across the globe, but in France, where secular principles, known as laïcité, hold strong, polls have repeatedly shown that the public firmly support these so-called veil laws. 

Paprec’s new rules come on the heels of a French appeals court ruling at the end of November which backed the owner of a nursery who had fired a Muslim assistant who refused to take off her headscarf at work. The scandal, named the"Baby Loup" affair after the name of the creche in the Parisian suburbs, provides some legal backing for Paprec’s ban.

However the Paprec’s CEO agreed the company's new rules leave it open to possible litigation.

“We plan to defend our point of view, to defend what we voted for as a group,” Petithuguenin told AFP. “But yes, we are taking the risk that the courts tell us ‘you are wrong’. I am prepared to take on this risk and hope, for the benefit of my country, that I won’t be condemned." 

However, professor Raphaël Liogier, Director of the French research organisation Observatory of Religions says what Paprec is doing is plainly illegal.

"The 2004 law was based on protecting children, because it was presumed they were too young to make up their own minds about religion," Liogier told The Local on Tuesday. "However, this would not apply here. It would be illegal, even if the employees have voted on it. There's no legal justification for it."

"They simply can't do it. The only way it would be possible is if the job requirements put restrictions on certain items of clothing, for example if the were using machinery etc."

Paprec's CEO may find that he has support both for the move both at government level and among the wider public.

In the aftermath of the Baby Loup affair France's government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said ministers would consider imposing legislation to uphold the principle of secularism in private work places.

If a bill was proposed, opinion polls suggest it would receive strong backing from the public.

A whopping majority - 84% - of the French people now oppose the wearing of the Islamic veil or headscarf in private workplaces frequented by members of the public, according to a poll published by regional daily Ouest-France.

Another poll found that 83% would be in favour of outlawing religious clothing or symbols in all private businesses such as Paprec.

The surveys were conducted in the middle of the "Baby Loup" affair.

But Professor Liogier believes France, home to Europe's biggest Muslim population of around 5 million, is far from introducing a law that would extend the veil ban to private companies.

Story continues below…

"The Constitutional Council would never accept it, or they would have to change the French constitution to get it passed," he told The Local.

And it is not just a ban on religious symbols in work places that has received backing. A report published in August last year, suggested the wearing of veils should be banned throughout France's universities. 

French courts have also been willing to back to country's controversial 2011 ban on women wearing full face coverings in public. Judges in January convicted a young woman for wearing a full-face Islamic veil in public and threw out her bid to have the country's controversial burqa ban declared unconstitutional.

Her lawyers had argued that the burqa ban impinges on religious freedom and unfairly targets Muslims, but the court ruled "it could not make exceptions to the law of the land."

Should the wearing of religious symbols be banned from work places in France?

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Court could give 'depressed' French nation right to smile
Photo: Jens Bergander/Flickr

"Is it really responsible, in a depressed France, that the authorities forbid the French from smiling... (on their ID photos)"

Is Hollande's last budget target really credible?
Photo: AFP

The president says the budget is "serious" but many would disagree.

China turns to Brittany cows to feed its babies
Photo: AFP

Far east giant provides a boost for Brittany's beleaguered dairy farmers.

France's 'fake tough guy' wobbles in comeback bid
Photo: AFP

The scandals are stacking up for Nicolas Sarkozy just at the wrong time.

Saudi princess 'told guard to kill Paris decorator'
Photo: Eurovizion/Flickr

"You have to kill this dog, he doesn't deserve to live," the princess allegedly said.

Paying for sex in France: New law has been 'catastrophic'
Photo: AFP

Prostitutes say new law to fine clients has been "catastrophic" but support groups say it "works well".

Only in France: 'Drive slowly - grape juice on the roads'
Photo: Rexness/Flickr

You know you're in France when...

France gives lift off to tough new drone laws
Photo: AFP

Time to crack down on drones, say French lawmakers.

Bienvenue en France: France cuts red tape for UK firms
Photo: AFP

France is ready to roll out the red carpet for UK firms quitting Britain because of Brexit fears.

VIDEO: Is life on a French café terrace really this bad?
Photo: Canal Plus

Bird poo, bums and butts: Is life on les terraces really as bad as this?

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Culture
The crazy French writing phrases you can't get your head around
Features
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
'Stop telling immigrants to be French and help it happen'
Society
Take the test: How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Lifestyle
Eleven things you should know before moving to Paris
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
Education
Grenoble named France's best city to be a student
Society
New Metro map reveals cheapest pints of beer in Paris
Business & Money
How reliant is the French economy on Paris?
Society
Here's why Parisians want to move to Bordeaux
And the 'best place to spend a weekend in Europe' is… Lyon
Analysis & Opinion
'Muslims in France must be considered ordinary citizens'
Armed guards to ride French trains from October
National
France among Europe's priciest for train travel
2,731
jobs available