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.
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