Muslims sacked for praying at work

A food processing company with plants in Colorado and Nebraska has fired around 200 Somali Muslims for leaving their work places to attend evening prayers. The sackings took place earlier this month after Brazilian company JBS SA refused to move the time

The dispute came to a head last month when 400 Muslim employees missed two work days for a rally, calling on the company to move the break.

It’s reported that the company initially agreed to shift the time of the break to coincide with Islamic evening prayers, but revoked the decision the next day.

The issue was complicated when non-Muslim employees organised a counter-rally to leave the time of the break unchanged.

JBS Swift & Co. insisted the sackings had nothing to do with religion, but rather with employees refusing to return to work.

The conflict goes back to 2006 when several hundred refugees from Somali, most of them Muslims, were employed in place of 400 Latin American workers. The latter group was fired after governmental check-ups revealed them to be illegal immigrants.

The problems started when the new workers, numbering around 1,200 Muslims, insisted on downing tools for evening prayers, leaving production lines unmanned. Management said the stoppages were unacceptable and eventually fired around 400 of them.

In October 2007, the conflict remained unresolved. Some of the dismissed workers filed complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which began an investigation into the case.

The dispute has been carefully watched in the U.S. as the possible start of a large Muslim labour movement across the country, with immigrants insisting that employers respect their religious traditons.

The number of religious discrimination complaints received by different organisations has doubled in the past 15 years in the U.S. In 2007 they increased by 15 per cent to 4515 – a new record.