An enraged community group filed a formal complaint on Saturday after four instructors were sacked for fasting during Ramadan whilst working at a summer camp in a Paris suburb.
The instructors were temporarily employed by the town of Gennevilliers in southwest France and were helping to run a summer holiday sports camp but were dismissed on July 20th, the very first day of Ramadan, after being told by an inspector that they were endangering children’s safety by not eating or drinking between dusk and dawn.
Although they were fully paid for the week they had remaining on their short-term contracts, they still plan to contest their dismissal through labor courts reported AFP. Samir, one of the sacked workers, who preferred only to be identified by his first name, explained to AFP that he believed their treatment had been “unfair and unacceptable” and he was glad that the issue has been brought to the public domain.
“We are thinking about going to court to get clear answers to our questions,” he added “Do people have the right not to eat during the day? Are doctors who observe Ramadan putting their patients' lives in danger?”
The town's actions were described as “an attack on religious freedom” by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) and said it was considering pressing charges against Genevilliers council for discrimination.
Mohammed Moussaoui, CFCM President, added: “Hundreds of millions of people fast for Ramadan every year without it having any impact on their professional activities.”
In a statement, the communist mayor of Genevilliers Jacques Bourgoin defended his decision to fire the four summer employees from the camp on the grounds of health and safety according to UAE daily Gulf News.
“They did not respect the terms of their contract in a way that could have endangered the physical safety of the children they were responsible for,” the statement read.
It went on to say “This lack of nourishment and hydration could have resulted in these employees not being in full possession of the means required to ensure activities at the camp were correctly and safely run, as well as the physical safety of the children in their charge.”
Mohand Yanat, the lawyer representing the four workers told AFP that the safety argument was just a “smokescreen” for anti-Muslim prejudice.
“How can you judge the capacity of someone to do their job on the basis of their religious practice?” Yanat asked.
Nicole Varet, an aide to the mayor has said however that the decision was heavily influenced by a past episode three years previous where a fasting camp worker was taken ill while driving, leading to an accident and a seriously injured child.
The town council later took backtracked their decision to dismiss the workers and Genevilliers town hall issued a statement saying that they would drop the clause from contracts for workers at the camp that obliged them to eat lunch during the month of Ramadan in order to avoid heightening tensions according to AFP.
The president of the Front des banlieues independant association, Hassan Ben M'Barek told AFP that he lodged the complaint as the town's reason for the dismissal, children's safety, “masks discrimination against a Muslim practice”.
The town also decided on Friday to set up a permanent committee to address issues Muslims may have with the community he added.
Similar controversy occurred in France last year after a law was introduced by the administration of former president Nicola Sarkozy banning woman from wearing the full face veil. The U.S. criticized the law and it resulted in the State Department expressing concern over a “rising number of European countries, including Belgium and France, whose laws restricting dress adversely affected Muslims and others” in the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report.