The government of Brussels region has decided not to appeal a decision by the public transport authority STIB to stand by a ruling of the labour tribunal in favour of a Muslim woman who was twice turned down for a job because she wears a hijab.
The STIB, which comes under the authority of the region, has a policy of neutrality, which forbids the display by employees of any sign of religious, political or philosophical adherence.
The woman in question was twice turned down for a job with the STIB because she habitually wears a hijab, one of the various types of headscarf common in the Muslim population.
She took her case to the labour tribunal, which found in her favour, ruling the refusal was discriminatory. The STIB was fined €50,000.
The governing committee of the STIB then took the decision not to appeal the ruling. As a result, Vincent Riga, who sits on the committee for Open VLD, raised an objection. That automatically sent the case to the table of the Brussels regional government to be decided.
Sven Gatz, the minister who sits in the government for Open VLD, described the decision not to appeal as “a lack of respect for the public function”.
“The Brussels government has imposed the principle of neutrality in its internal organisation and in its services to citizens. The verdict contradicts this principle, so an appeal must be filed,” he said.
Yesterday, however, minister-president Rudi Vervoort (PS) convened a hastily-arranged press conference to announce the government would take no such step. Instead, the government will communicate to the governing committee of the STIB the need to make amendments to its labour regulations, while at the same time maintaining the principal that religious signs should not have a place where public-facing employees are concerned.