Airline Found Guilty Of Sexual Discrimination, CEO Says He Doesn’t Give A Damn

In the fight over Open Skies, one of the really unfair things the US carriers are doing is lumping all the Gulf carriers together when it comes to their treatment of employees.

In March I wrote about how US flight attendant unions damned any company that does business with the Gulf carriers, on account of how they treat employees:

Today the union presidents of the Association of Flight Attendants; the Association of Professional Flight Attendants; the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters sent a joint letter to the U.S. Travel Association Board questioning their continued support for the repugnant policies of three Gulf carriers – Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates.

These carriers require their female employees to obtain permission before getting married or pregnant and ban lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from employment.

It’s extremely unfair to put Emirates and Etihad in the same group as Qatar Airways when it comes to their treatment of employees. I have plenty of friends who work for Emirates and Etihad, and all things considered they’re quite happy with how they’re treated. The same isn’t true for friends I have at Qatar Airways.

Qatar Airways has some really archaic policies, which we’ve known about for years. I’ve heard firsthand report after firsthand report. Just as an example, the crews have a curfew when they’re at home in Doha, whereby they can’t leave their “housing” during certain hours. They’re basically imprisoned. For an airline which operates so many flights in the middle of the night, that’s a ridiculous policy. And that doesn’t even begin to address their policies on marriage, pregnancy, etc.

Back in February, Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, appeared on Richard Quest’s program. Quest brought up the point of how his staff are treated. Here’s the video:

In case you don’t want to watch the video, here’s the relevant transcript:

Quest: “The question of the contracts that your female flight attendants sign where they have to ask permission to get married and to get pregnant. First of all, let’s scotch this once and for all, is this true?”

Al Baker: “That is not true, that is a load of bullshit. This is people creating issues because just we don’t have unions and this is what they don’t like. They say that our work practices are very progressive, people have all the rights that they require and what the rumors are being circulated is absolutely untrue. And we have already the ILO inspectors in my country that are looking into this and have already found that all these rumors are unsubstantiated and just created to paint a bad picture on the Gulf carriers.”

You heard it directly from Al Baker — the ILO has already found that all these rumors are unsubstantiated and created simply to paint a bad picture of the airline.

Surely he wouldn’t put words in the ILO’s (International Labor Organization) mouth, would he? Well, the ILO has finally released their report on Qatar Airways, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Qatar Airways has been accused of sexual discrimination, and the ILO has urged Qatar Airways to make major changes.

Per arabianbusiness.com:

The airline’s policy of reserving the right to terminate the employment of pregnant women and it’s banning of female employees from being allowed to be picked up or dropped off at the company premises by an unrelated male amounts to sexual discrimination, the International Labor Organization ruled on Tuesday.

The ILO also expressed concerns about the contractual obligation for employees to declare their marital status and the fact some are employed on a “single status” basis, despite removing a clause that required employees to obtain prior permission from the company to get married.

The airline has since introduced a new contract, addressing some of the concerns, although so far only half of the 9,000 cabin crew staff have been transferred to the new contract.

The ILO committee found the new contract still breached international sexual discrimination standards in some areas.

So what does the contract state? When pregnant, women aren’t given special measures of protection or assistance, as the ILO requests:

In particular, women are discriminated against when they become pregnant. The contract states: “The employee shall confirm and understand that as per the Qatar Civil Aviation Regulations, Cabin Crew are considered unfit to fly during pregnancy. Accordingly, the company reserves the right to automatically terminate your contract as a flying Cabin Crew Member should you become pregnant.… Should another suitable ground position with Qatar Airways be available during this period you may apply and undergo the recruitment process for the position if found suitable.”

The ILO in its ruling said while it is cognizant of the health and safety reasons for not allowing a cabin crew member to fly while pregnant, Qatar Airways’ breached international law by not protecting the woman’s employment or her right to maternity leave without discrimination.

“The Committee observes that the provisions relating to ‘another suitable ground position’ in the employment contract and in respect of which the cabin crew ‘may apply and undergo the recruitment process’, cannot be considered to be special measures of protection or assistance,” the ILO ruling says.

Similarly, they found the policy of confining crews to their company accommodation for 12 hours prior to a shift to be unreasonable:

The trade unions also raised concern over Qatar Airways’ rules stipulating employees must “rest” 12 hours prior to a shift, which is enforced by confining them to the company accommodation, and refusing to allow them to stay overnight at non-company accommodation, including on their days off.

The unions said staff had complained that fire escapes and windows had been sealed off to prevent employees from leaving the premises undetected.

They alleged that “broad surveillance of staff, including reports of control of social media and private activities while off duty, acts of verbal harassment and disciplinary measures, including dismissals, which according to the complainants, disproportionately affect women and go beyond national and cultural sensitivities and differences”.

So to recap, Al Baker claimed that the ILO supported his claims, when exactly the opposite was true. The best part of the story is the commentary he provided today at the Paris Air Show, in regards to the ILO’s report.

Via Al Arabiya News:

Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, said the ILO was pursuing a “vendetta” against both the airline and Qatar as a whole, Reuters reported.

“I don’t give a damn about the ILO – I am there to run a successful airline,” Al Baker reportedly said at the Paris Air Show.

“This is evidence of a vendetta they have against Qatar Airways and my country. My country has responded to the ILO accusations in a very robust way. We clarified the clauses in our contract.”

There you have it, folks:

  • Al Baker doesn’t “give a damn” about the findings, since he’s there to “run a successful airline”
  • The ILO raising concerns over Qatar Airways’ treatment of women is “evidence of a vendetta they have” against the airline and country
  • This all comes after Al Baker claimed the ILO supported his claims, and that everyone else was trying to paint a bad picture of the airline, completely unsubstantiated

Wow…

Comments

  1. Both ILO findings and Al Baker’s reaction are not very surprising, unfortunately. While his rants may be amusing, his policies and behavior are not.

  2. I agree that the contract points are not tolerable.
    But I am wondering, if the conditions on the contract are so bad, why are people still signing them and becoming their employees? If they know about these policies upfront, I am wondering if you can really blame the airlines?
    I am also of what are their termination clauses if someone wants to resign.

  3. So then, I guess how much does this matter to you (or whomever)? We all know that the only way to efficiently get a company to change their policies is to speak with our money. Innovative premium cabins or not, if the treatment of their female employees matter to you, your only choice is to stop giving them your money. The voice doesn’t matter–protests don’t matter–strongly worded internet posts do not matter. The only thing that matters is the money. I mean, do it or don’t…I’m not going to judge anyone; you can’t however post on one hand about the great experience they provide while on the other hand sympathize with the struggles that face their female employees.

  4. Assuming all these ridiculous rules that Qatar imposes to their employees are true, why would any woman work for them?

  5. @John: That is my point. Are these rules kept secret before anyone signs a contract with Qatar and once you are in you get the booklet with all the rules you never knew before hand? There is no doubt these rules are ridiculous but if you sign up a contract knowing those rules then I don’t think there is much for you to complain about it. It is similar to accepting a job that you have to work the night shift and you start complaining on your first week that you don’t like to work at night. As long as people have a choice I don’t think anyone that agreed with those rules should complain. As people say: Rules are rules. Like it or not, you have to follow them.

  6. As long as it’s a free country (perhaps debatable in Qatar) and there isn’t slavery (and even the most ridiculous commentators don’t seriously allege that for Qatar), then people don’t have to work for them and it’s really not up to people from a different culture and continent to make too harsh a judgment.

    After all, the USA has the most ridiculous, out-dated and draconian rules forbidding young adults from buying a beer or a glass of wine. I personally think it’s outrageous that people should be considered responsible enough to vote, or fight and die for their country, but are not permitted a glass of beer. I could try to argue that everywhere else should boycott the USA over this outrage, but, hey, it’s the USA’s own country – America has made its bed and has to sleep on it. Oh! and lots of young adults enjoy visiting the place of their own free will (although I’ve not yet met one who hasn’t been appalled by the USA’s policy on this matter).

  7. @NB. The US is also the only country other than Papua New Guinea and Oman that does not provide paid time off after child birth to women. Maybe a better point of comparison than drinking age.

  8. But Lucky, will you be trying them on their new routes which start soon? What are your intentions with this post and future flying with Qatar?

    I’m not sure what to think of these things involving labor in other countries. The other day I saw Singapore Airlines recruitment was seeking male and female cabin crew from Singapore and Malaysia. But from other countries such as China, India, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia, etc. they were seeking applications for FEMALE cabin crew only. Is this ok?

    https://www.singaporeair.com/en_UK/careers/cabin-crew-appointments/

  9. With regard to the questions about why women would continue to work for the company if they have such draconian policies, I think the answer to that question is the same as the response to why people work in sweatshops or in other highly unfavorable conditions. The solution isn’t as simple as “just don’t work there then.”

    I do have a couple of flights booked on QR. I have no plans to cancel them, but may be hesitant to book in the future. I wonder about a company led by a CEO who consistently outright lies about things (e.g. whether they’re joining OW, whether they have certain labor practices). If he generally lives in a constant state of denial about reality, how he would react if a safety problem developed/was discovered at the airline?

  10. @luckys reader, what is the problem with that? They do that because they mostly only hire Singaporean males who have completed National Service, there is no lack of males from Singapore applying for positions. If you are a Singaporean male wanting to fly with SQ you are required to be physically fit and completed national Service favourably, they use male attendants kinda like security on flights.

    And with regards to gulf airlines, I refuse to fly them. There’s no benefit for me to fly gulf airlines, I have to stop in the middle east, what is the point of that? I rather fly to europe direct.

  11. I don’t know if this is still true but I remember employment classifieds for jobs in the UAE always saying “Muslims preferred”. That just struck me as funny considering many of their customers are non-Muslims.

  12. @Andrew B regarding the “outright lies,” what are your thoughts about the recent things the Delta CEO has said? I bristled when I heard them and lost respect for him. It also leads to a sense of disappointment and disbelief regarding how someone like that could get to such a high position. It gives me a bad taste, but honestly, if Delta had the lowest price and a good itinerary for what I needed, I would probably fly them again.

    @Jay my point was simply that Singapore does not appear to be accepting applications for male cabin crew in the other countries they recruit from outside of their home base.

  13. Lucky – I recall (and I apologize if I am incorrect) you mentioned that the in-flight manager sets the tone for a flight. Would the same be true for the CEO setting the tone for the airline? Say, if Qatar had a Tim Clark or James Hogan running the show, the employees may be treated differently (better)?

  14. And yet you still fly them. I love your posts, Ben, but It’s hard to really think that you care about your friends who work for Qatar when you still fly them.

  15. @ John:

    People choose to work for them for the same reasons that guest workers subject themselves to all kinds of human rights abuses (and in Qatar, at least, a rapidly increasing death toll) in the Gulf States, because they have very few other options in their home countries and are willing to risk their lives to provide for their families. Just because people are willing to work in horrible conditions, doesn’t mean we as a global community should allow employers to subject people to those conditions.

  16. @ mangoceviche — I’d absolutely say so. Qatar Airways is *very* much Al Baker’s baby, both in terms of the good traits and the bad ones.

  17. People can blame Qatar Airways all they like, but it’s the outdated, but very much alive and kicking assumption, that flight attendants should be pretty, young women that’s the root cause of sexual discrimination. For all those disgusted by “old” and “fat” American “stewardesses” (they’re flight attendants–get with the times) then book yourselves exclusively on Asian and Middle Eastern airlines where you can ogle attractive young things to your heart’s content. Just keep in mind that those female flight attendants can so easily suffer discrimination at the hands of their employers precisely because they are all females and employers know that double standards in their countries will let them get away with it.

  18. @ Chancer

    I have less of an issue with the appearance requirements of the Gulf carriers, because as you said, that’s a problem for many airlines. Last time I checked, however, I can’t think of any other carrier that essentially holds their employees hostage the way Qatar does.

  19. @chancer: Well said. The moral standards in the Arab world are very different from ours. I will not fly with Middle Eastern airlines, even though their product might offer a lot of luxury for a low price, because I feel mostly that I prefer a bit less luxury in c-class in a European or US carrier with direct connections preferable to a stopover in Doha, Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Even if you can spend a couple of hours in a nice lounge. I prefer to spend these hours at my destination. And yes, the U.S. airline executives have a valid point when they speak of unfair trade practices. Middle Easetern airlines are heavily supported by their governments, who are looking at life after oil. Our airlines have to abide by strict competition and cartel rules, they don’t.

  20. @chasgoose: +1. Well put. If you know anyone in the Phils for example who struggles to survive and provide for their families, it’s easy to understand why they put up with such conditions.

    @Robbie: Not euthanized. Too violent. Neutered would be better.

  21. All this talk of Qatar Airways holding their flight attendants “hostage” makes me chuckle. I was a flight attendant for 30 years, for several international carriers, and the reality is that ALL airlines hold their cabin crewmembers ‘hostage’ in various ways. (I flew for Libyan Arab Airlines, under Muammar Gaddafi, and could tell you some REAL ‘hostage’ stories!) Having served in the military prior to my airline career, I always felt the airlines I worked for were far stricter than the Navy!

    I’ve flown Qatar Airways roundtrip a number of times between South Africa and both Europe and the U.S. During quiet times inflight I’ve chatted and traded stories with lots of QR flight attendants and I’ve rarely encountered such friendly, gracious and seemingly happy airline employees. (They certainly put to shame the sour-puss senior attendants I worked alongside at the Big-3 U.S. airline I retired from!) Most of the ME3 carriers’ crewmembers know what they’re getting into when they apply, and they don’t plan to make flying a career.

    My brother-in-law is an Inflight Service Director with British Airways and he’s told me about BA’s difficulty in recruiting new flight attendants because would-be applicants are put-off by both the low salary and the poor working conditions. Really, very few airlines are a dream to work for these days.

  22. If The conditions are so bad nobody force them to work there also flight attendants working for QR for over 20 years should be masoquist then ?? On the A350 inaugural the average years of service was 10 !! Why don’t we stop considering one law fits all ??? Like ” democracy ” in Irak ? ???
    Gulf airlines set up their rules take it or leave it , if you don’t like quit or find a job somewhere else

    Why dont we complaint how Unions are getting the airline industry a total shit like allowing FA doing what ever they want

  23. @Lucky’s Reader – is your impression of SQ built from 1 recruitment invite?

    SQ cabin crew is 40% men. Here’s a 3rd party verification: http://thedesignair.net/2015/06/08/we-take-you-behind-the-scenes-at-singapore-airlines/. Much more of these men than the ladies stay on for life. Therefore, as the turnover for the ladies are much higher, the recruitment for female flight attendants are obviously necessary & much more frequent.

    And I was once an SQ crew.

  24. @chasgoose: I completely agree with you! I travel to India a lot and I totally understand what you are talking about. But when I said so, I just had a doubt if all the cabin crew workers actually came from such a family background. If that’s the case, its just sad they airlines like these are willingly, with no shame, taking advantage of them

  25. Ben, I love you, but between visiting dictatorships that survive on tourist cash flow (Maldives) and calling out airlines based out of homophobic countries that censor gay websites (Korean Air), maybe you should avoid these touchy subjects to keep some the crazy commenters at bay

  26. Oh Kenneth, your comment reminds me of the time I talked to a guy who had visited a brothel in Vegas. He was so impressed that the prostitute who serviced him was so nice and friendly. He didn’t want to hear the reason, that she wanted a bigger tip.

  27. I think the horror stories about how QR treats its staff are really overdone by the media. My partner works for QR and while some of the rumoured rules are in fact correct, it’s nowhere as near as outrageous as people make it sound. For example, while it is true that the CC have a curfew, people who discuss this topic probably do not know that:

    1.It is only between the really late hours (3am~7am, not too sure on the exact hours but it is close to that range)
    2. It only applies to crew where QR provides housing to (i.e. if you do not stay in the company provided accommodation, then there’s no curfew).

    So looking at the above, if I’m providing housing to my staff as the employer, is it so unreasonable for me to require that my staff do not leave or enter my house between set hours?

    Note that the curfew only applies in Doha as well. If you really are sick of it and you have a 4 day off in your roster, you can apply for an exit permit (this is not a QR requirement but a government requirement for all employer sponsored workers) and head to any other country where there’s no curfew.

    While it is definitely inconvenient, none of the people I know that works at QR sees this as a ‘prison’…

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