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NRI 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 them

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Sikh seeks right to not wear hard hat

VANCOUVER, October 19, 2005
Vancouver Sun

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 Commission.

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 said.

"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 hard hats."

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 policy.

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 from hazards."

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 workers.

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.


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Hard-hat in the building industries, fishing industries, construction industries, lumber industries