Utrecht City Council voted for the measure the day after the Dutch Government announced plans to ban women wearing the burka in some public places as a security measure, and on the same day that Maria van der Hoeven, the Education Minister, urged a ban on burkas in schools.
The burka, a traditional women’s dress in some Muslim societies, covers the entire body except the eyes. The sanctions also apply to women wearing a face-concealing veil, or niqab.
Utrecht made the decision after two Muslim women receiving €550 (?380) a month in unemployment benefits told the jobcentre that they did not attend job interviews because no one would employ them because of their burkas, which they refused to remove.
A spokesman for the city said that the problem was not widespread, but added: “It is a point of principle which applies to all women who refuse to remove their burkas for job interviews. People get benefits when they are out of work but there is also an obligation to do everything to get a job. These women were educated, spoke good Dutch and had opportunities in the labour market.” The city will cut the women’s benefits by 10 per cent a month if they continue to refuse to take off their burkas for job interviews.
Utrecht based its decision on the Work and Social Security Act, which states that somebody receiving welfare must not do anything to prevent getting work. The city also noted that the Equality Commission, an official anti-discrimination body, backed employers who refused to give jobs to people wearing burkas, because being able to see someone’s face was an essential part of many jobs.
Rita Verdonk, the Minister for Integration and Immigration Minister, said that wearing the burka should be banned where it is a threat to security because it could be used by terrorists for concealment. She announced an investigation into when and where the burka should be banned, and will give details in two months.
No country has banned the the burka in public, although several Flemish-speaking Belgian towns have done so.
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