LONDON, UK—It comes after a tireless campaign by the Sikh Council UK to address an anomaly which meant Sikhs were exempt from wearing safety helmets in the high risk construction industry, but were required to wear safety helmets in lower risk workplaces, such as factories, warehouses and transport.
The loophole in the legislation has led to Sikhs facing discrimination and being dismissed from their employment for wearing their turban.
Secretary General of Sikh Council UK, Gurmel Singh said, “We are delighted that our long campaign has enabled a vital change in the law. It will make a real difference to Sikhs in the UK by increasing the number of workplaces that Sikhs can work in whilst maintaining their religiously mandated identity.”
He added, “I am grateful to members of the Sikh Council UK who have worked hard to achieve this milestone. I am also grateful to parliamentarians of all parties who have engaged with us on this and helped bring this about.”
The issue of wearing safety helmets in place of turbans has been an ongoing one for Sikhs since the passing of the Employment Act 1989. Under this legislation, turban wearing Sikhs have been exempt from wearing safety helmets on construction sites. However, over the years safety helmets have been required to be worn in further workplaces but the exemption for turban wearing Sikhs was not similarly extended to these other lower risk work environments.
The loophole in the law has led to the Sikh Council UK dealing with a number of cases where Sikhs have faced disciplinary hearings and even dismissed from longstanding employment solely due to their refusal to remove their turban and wear a safety helmet.
It has also meant members of the Sikh community were unable to follow their chosen professions because of the insistence on the need to wear safety helmets.
An amendment was introduced to the Deregulation Bill by the Government with cross-party support in March 2014 following lobbying by Sikh Council UK. The Deregulation Bill was finally granted Royal Assent on 26th March 2015 enshrining the exemption in law. Whilst the exemption for turban wearing Sikhs will extend to all workplaces, there will still be very limited exceptions, such as for specific roles in the armed forces and emergency response situations.
The change further provides protection for employers by extending the limitation on liability for employers in the construction industry to any work situation where a turban-wearing Sikh chooses not to wear a safety helmet.
Spokesperson for Sikh Council UK, Gurinder Singh Josan said, “This issue is very important for British Sikhs. In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s when Sikhs first arrived in the UK they could only obtain employment by firstly removing their religiously mandated turbans. We welcome the recognition by UK parliament of the importance of the turban to observant Sikhs and that they should be allowed to be full citizens of the UK whilst being able to freely practice their faith.”
He added, “The Sikh Council UK will be publicising this new law within the Sikh community and will continue to work with Government and other agencies in producing guidance and information for employers and individuals.”