Qatar Airways has come under scrutiny on Wednesday after it was accused of forcing its female workers to seek permission from the company when they decide to get married.
In a report released by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) on Tuesday, the airline was found to also mandate that women tell a supervisor if they become pregnant.
The airline then reserves the right to fire them upon the discovery, according to the ITF report, alleging the violation of the basic labor rights of Qatar Airway’s 28,000 employees.
When Al Arabiya English contacted Qatar Airways on Wednesday, the airline’s Senior Corporate Communications Manager Madonna Walsh said a statement in response to the report would be released shortly. She declined to comment further.
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, trade union officials aren’t holding their breath for a ground-breaking response to the allegations from Qatar Airways.
“We would expect that the airline will try to paint a picture of their operations and say [that the allegations] are essentially not the truth,” International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow told Al Arabiya English on Wednesday.
“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.”
Burrow had said in a statement earlier that international pressure is growing, from the International Labor Organization and the U.N. Special rapporteur, for “companies in Qatar to take responsibility for workers’ rights and follow global rules.”
The ITF, which represents around 4.5 million transport workers in 150 countries, is currently in Canada to lobby the ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organization) to take action on what it termed “flagrant abuses of aviation workers’ labor rights” by carriers based in Qatar and the UAE.
Painting a 'happy picture'
The secretary of the ITF’s civil aviation section Gabriel Mocho told Al Arabiya English that he believes the airline will now try to portray a “happy picture.”
“They will attempt to show the world that their staff is very happy with living in Doha and that they are treated well. This is what they have been saying publically,” said Mocho, adding that clear abuses of labor rights among workers are now evident.
Earlier this year, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker addressed the ongoing criticisms of the Gulf state’s labor policies.
“If you did not have unions you wouldn’t have this jobless problem in the western world… It is caused by unions making companies and institutions uncompetitive and bringing them to a position of not being efficient,” Baker told Arabian Business.
“If you go and ask the politicians in most of the countries in the western world they would love to have the system we have: where the workers have rights through the law but they do not have rights through striking and undermining successful institutions that provide jobs to their knees,” he added.
This attitude continues to be denounced by the ITF.
“The fact is that these companies are making a fortune from the efforts of hardworking staff who, undefended, can be discharged and deported on a whim,” ITF president Paddy Crumlin said.
The official statistics as to how many women are currently employed at Qatar Airways have not been made public in the past, says Mocho, but the airline prides itself on hiring from all over the world and employing 150 nationalities among its crew and pilot staff.