Sikhs want exemption for new hard-hat policy
on the Vancouver waterfront
BC , October 19, 2005
NRI (non-residebt Indians) started loosing
jobs on the Vancouver waterfront with the new hard-hat
policy of April 2004. For a Sikh, wearing a Turban
is not an optional but mandatory requirement of the
Sikh faith. It is a serious problem for Sikhs in the
building industries, fishing industries, construction
industries, lumber industries.
Sikhism is a practical religion with
its own ideology including the doctrine " Do
not be afraid and nor do frighten others". A
Sikh is known with his turban. A turban is tied to
protect and cover unshorn hairs which are one of the
most important part of Sikh faith. Unshorn hair are
the seal of Sikh Gurus. To Sikhs, their turban is
sacred. Turbans are the crown bestowed upon them by
their Gurus and many have sacrificed their lives to
protect its honor.
It is an important question for Sikhs how to save
their identity. Most of the law makers don't understand
in western Countries but sikhs are trying to educate
seeks right to not wear hard hat
VANCOUVER, October 19, 2005
First Avtar Singh Dhillon fought for and won the right
to ride his motorcycle in B.C. without a helmet.
Now he is fighting a new hard-hat policy on the Vancouver
waterfront that he says has limited the jobs available
to baptized Sikh longshoremen such as himself.
Dhillon, Amarjit Singh Sidhu and the International
Longshore and Warehouse Union have filed a grievance
with the B.C. Maritime Employers' Association over
new safety regulations making hard hats mandatory
in several union jobs. An arbitration hearing began
in downtown Vancouver Tuesday.
The Sikh workers have also won the right to be heard
on the hard-hat issue before the Canadian Human Rights
To Dhillon, who won a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal
ruling in 1999 allowing him to ride his motorcycle
without a helmet, the two issues are the same.
"The turban is very important for the Sikhs
in history," he said Tuesday. "This is an
issue all over Canada for Sikhs in the building industries,
fishing industries, construction industries, lumber
industries. We want to solve this problem."
The hearing is expected to continue into November.
Dhillon, a longshoreman for 10 years, said the new
hard-hat policy was implemented in April 2004, meaning
some of the jobs he used to have access to on the
waterfront are no longer available to him.
"Up to last year, they had no hard-hat policy,
so we worked quietly at every job, everywhere,"
he said. "Now we have lost many jobs."
Frank Pasacreta, president of the employers association,
said the new hard-hat policy is an attempt to make
the waterfront safer by reducing workplace accidents.
He said just a few of the jobs done by the unionized
work force are affected, meaning baptized Sikhs still
have access to other jobs.
"In most of these cases, they have spent a fair
bit of time in looking at whether they can engineer
out the hazard. . . . But where we can't do that,
we have put in a hard-hat policy," Pasacreta
"It is quite a small percentage of the work
on the waterfront at this point has been affected
by the hard-hat policy. There is a vast array of things
that can be done on the waterfront that don't require
But Dhillon said he has already been turned down
for work at Vancouver's Neptune Bulk Terminal, while
Sidhu has lost work in Port Moody over the hard-hat
He said the situation is much worse for casual workers
who are lower on the board at the union hiring hall
because there are far fewer jobs to which they can
get called out.
"Now we have a very narrow range of jobs in
some places," he said.
Pasacreta said the Sikhs have not grieved another
safety requirement for longshore workers to wear a
protective mask when dealing with some toxic chemicals.
The mask cannot be worn by men with beards, such as
baptized Sikhs, because it does not seal properly.
He said the new health and safety rules, of which
the hard-hat policy is one, have reduced workplace
accidents considerably in the past five years.
"This has involved high visibility protective
clothing. It has involved hard hats. It's involved
special types of footwear for different operations."
Pasacreta said the disagreement between the employer
group and baptized Sikh workers is a philosophical
one that is not easily resolved.
"It is a difficult balance that you struggle
with all the time," he said. "I think for
them it is a fundamental issue that they should be
able to do whatever work they wish to do. Our difficulty
is we have an obligation to ensure that they are protected
The union is supporting the Sikh workers because
there is a sense that the hard-hat rule is arbitrary
and not necessarily reducing the risk faced by longshore
Dave Pritchett, vice-president of the union's Local
500, said that when cranes on the waterfront are lifting
loads weighing 60 tonnes, a hard hat is not going
to help much if there is an industrial accident.
"Some of the real issues around safety are not
being addressed," he said. "Why aren't they
dealing with other real issues?"
Dhillon said he hopes he'll have the same kind of
success on this issue that he had back in 1999.
After the human rights tribunal decision on the motorcycle
helmet, the B.C. government changed the law to exempt
Sikhs from mandatory helmet laws.