When conflict arises between a worker's faith and the job

In this May 20, 2019 file photo, Muslims prayer at the Masjid Al Tawbah in Lowlands, Tobago. Sometimes a Muslim worker may want time off to attend Friday prayers which may conflict with the job.   PHOTO BY DAVID REID - DAVID REID
In this May 20, 2019 file photo, Muslims prayer at the Masjid Al Tawbah in Lowlands, Tobago. Sometimes a Muslim worker may want time off to attend Friday prayers which may conflict with the job. PHOTO BY DAVID REID - DAVID REID

Diana Mahabir-Wyatt

In furtherance of the question of the possible conflict between religious and work obligations, which we looked at last week, I have been asked to clarify what should happen in relation to the principles and practices of good industrial relations if and when grievances arise when an employee starts off in a job belonging to one religion and then, due to genuine conviction, switches to another with different demands which may conflict with work obligations.

The conflict may also arise when an employee’s job content changes.

I once had a case where a young man, an excellent marketing professional working in a very lucrative position, was told, to his consternation, that the company he worked for, up till that time dealing with gourmet food items, was adding a line of fine wines to their merchandise.

He was a devout Muslim, and selling alcohol was contrary to his beliefs. At first he tried to get around it by asking his general manager to remove the alcohol portfolio from his responsibilities, but as he was the marketing manager overall, it was unarguably within his duties.

Inevitably he had to choose between his job and his religious beliefs, and his religious beliefs won.

Fortunately, his reputation was so high in the marketing community that within six months he was offered another (and even more lucrative) position in a company dealing with several non-alcoholic lines of consumer goods, where he thrived.

Sometimes the conflict arises the opposite way, when someone becomes a member of the Seventh-day Adventist, the Jewish or Muslim faiths with worship attendances at jumah, or church or temple, as it may be, on Friday and the job also requires work on, or regular shift responsibilities that must be done, on those days.

What can you do? As we all know, sections four and five of the Constitution guarantee freedom of religion. But it does not guarantee everyone a job. You do have freedom of choice.

The question comes up more often than you would think, and can cause genuine anguish and conflict for people of faith.

Sometimes this can be solved by switching to another job within the same organisation, if there is one, or offering to work “make-up time” on Sundays if that is possible. Mostly, it isn’t and it is back to a matter of choice.

But “blacking” as a group, which is refusing to provide a service or fulfil a responsibility as a weapon in order to force another person, or group, to agree to terms or conditions that you want them to agree to – this becomes what our Industrial Relations Act refers to as a “a sympathy strike” or a “secondary boycott.”

An example would be when the leadership of the group you belong to orders the group not to patronise certain stores or buy certain products to force their will upon the targeted “other” to support someone else’s problem. In the instance just cited, it would be to force the marketing company not to sell alcohol in support of the young man’s beliefs.

That is illegal industrial action according to section two of the act. (Please note that does not apply to government orders about what you can sell or not sell to drink...pandemic or no pandemic). We all know that it happened during the epidemic election when racial slurs made by senior employees of certain organisations were exposed.

I mention it because it has happened again, this time in relation to a medical professional, calling for the hapless individual to be “excommunicated” from the list of those licensed to practise his particular profession: in other words, to “blacklist” him.

The alternative, just not to use his services on the grounds of personal choice and repugnance, was not one of the options mentioned by these “guardians of human rights."

It is not an unusual situation to be in in TT which, as we know, is a highly racial country.

I was warned, also by a medical professional, not to go to a particular specialist on the grounds that she was racist and did not like people of my particular skin colour. Lots of people don’t. So I went to someone else.

It is interesting that people who claim to support those who work for a living, instead of urging rehabilitation of offenders, for example, to make them work pro bono to give back to the community they have offended, use their power to block their colleagues ability to work professionally. Power does funny things to people.

In colonial days offenders would be exiled. Obnoxious Trinis used to be sent to Venezuela or otherwise “down the Main.” Look it up if you don’t believe me.

But times have changed. I have been advised that now such people are just professionally blacklisted, which means taken off the list of those licensed to practise. (It also enables the licensing body to cut down the competition.)

Cut them off for using offending speech, and Dr Google indicates that some of these historically have been segued into a list of “elite white-collar crimes.” They can start a religious sect (very lucrative) turn to fraud, sex work, money laundering, human trafficking, illegal “investment” schemes, often followed by blackmail; and to activities for medics can be added illegal abortions ( not all abortions are illegal, but there is still a ready market for those that are). Google didn’t list rehabilitation or community service.


"When conflict arises between a worker's faith and the job"

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