After months of scathing reports from labor rights officials, Qatar Airways on Friday said controversy over its female cabin crew policy was "not true."
The airline was blasted last September for forcing its female workers to seek permission from the company when they decide to get married.
In a report released then by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the airline was found to also mandate that women tell a supervisor if they become pregnant.
Back then, Al Arabiya News contacted Qatar Airways but the airline’s Senior Corporate Communications Manager Madonna Walsh declined to comment further.
Now, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker has reacted furiously to questions about the report and said people were attacking Qatar because it had won the right to host the 2022 soccer World Cup.
"All this was a big sensational (effort) to target my country because of 2022, saying people have no human rights. It is not true," he told reporters at the ITB travel fair in Berlin, in statements carried by Reuters news agency.
‘No husband, no babies’
Qatar Airways contracts forbid any member of the cabin crew, the vast majority of whom are female, from marrying during the first five years of their employment with the firm, according to ITF.
"You know they have come there to do a job and we make sure that they are doing a job, that they give us a good return on our investment," Baker said.
He said because local regulations prevented pregnant cabin crew from flying and the company did not have many ground jobs available for them, pregnant women must often leave.
"We are not in the business where we can guarantee ground jobs or let people stay away ... and don't do anything for the airline," he said.
Cabin crew across the world may not work on board airplanes once pregnant due to health concerns, although some countries allow them to work for up to three months into the pregnancy.
Most airlines then find them work on the ground or put them on maternity leave. In Europe, pregnant women are protected from being fired or made redundant.
Back in September, the secretary of the ITF’s civil aviation section Gabriel Mocho told Al Arabiya News of the group’s research into female cabin crew cases.
“We have stories from workers that show they are one of the worst airlines in history and that women are at risk of being stalked, are subject to curfews in their accommodation and that there are attempts to bribe workers who will report other workers who are on duty.
“It’s a terrible culture of denial of rights and indeed an inhumane approach to teamwork in an industry that’s based on people’s trust of each other,” Mocho added.
International Women's Day
The ITF is now calling on women across the globe to speak out against the airline on Saturday, International Women's Day.
According to the ITF, a standard hiring contract for thousands of the airline’s female workers reads: “You are required to obtain prior permission from the company, in case you wish to change your marital status and get married.
“The employee shall notify the employer in case of pregnancy from the date of her knowledge of its occurrence. The employer shall have the right to terminate the contract of employment from the date of notification of the pregnancy. Failure of employee to notify the employer or the concealment of the occurrence shall be considered a breach of contract.”
Meanwhile, Emirates airline said it has a policy whereby female cabin crew that become pregnant in the first three years have to leave.
"If you are hired by Emirates as a cabin crew, during the first three years we expect from you to fly," Chief Commercial Officer Thierry Antinori said at the travel fair.
"Last year, we had 129,000 applications for cabin crew at Emirates. I do not think these are conditions that are making people reluctant to work for us," Antinori added.
‘Short skirt’ drive
Last month, Qatar Airways came under fire from Norway’s anti-discrimination ombudsman after it posted an advert telling women to wear short skirts to a cabin-crew recruitment day in the capital, Oslo.
In the same advert, men were asked to come wearing “business suits,” according to Norwegian news website The Local.
The advert was later changed to state that both men and women to attend wearing “business wear.”
“We believe that it is contrary to law that there should be different clothing requirements for men and women,” Carl Fredrik Riise, an advisor for the country’s anti-discrimination group, told Norway's DN newspaper.