Muslim bag handlers at Geneva airport have been stopping work several times a day to pray in a common area, and it has been causing friction, reports the Geneva weekly newspaper GHI.
“It’s incredible. Last January we reported that some of our colleagues were regularly praying in the common room, but it has continued despite this.” said a member of staff. “We have nothing against people praying, but doing it several times a day in the cafeteria, and creating delays because of unauthorised absence….”
Employers have remained silent on the subject, leaving some stunned. “To start with, they used a makeshift room” said a baggage sorter. Then this unauthorised room was closed. Since then they have moved to the common rest area to pray five times a day. “They ask women to leave the room, and sometimes us if we are eating a salami sandwich while they are praying. Most of the time we’re asked to leave”.
Despite employers having been made aware of the situation, the issue continues. “We are still waiting for them to respond”. Contacted by GHI, Swissport neither confirmed or denied the reports, telling the newspaper they didn’t want to make any comment.
The airport’s press office told GHI they do not get involved in these kinds of conflicts, which are left to employers to handle. Geneva’s department of security and the economy (DSE) responded similarly: “These are private spaces and it is up to the companies that employ these staff to sort out problems of this nature, while taking into consideration the constitutional right to religious freedom” said DES spokesperson Caroline Widmer, while pointing out that no criminal complaint had been made.
“The bag handlers’ praying should be agreed with the employer when they are taken on” said Hafid Ouardiri, director of the Fondation de L’Entre-Connaissance. “Prayers should not get in the way of working. On the contrary. Someone who puts themselves forward for a position is paid for that. They can’t take time out on the pretext of needing to pray if they haven’t agreed it with their boss. If their employer does agree it would be better to make a prayer room available rather than a common room” he said before adding “Prayer should bring peace not conflict”.