Qatar Airways boss: ‘I don’t give a damn’ about ILO discrimination report

Akbar Al Baker accuses International Labor Organization of pursuing a ‘vendetta’ against airline and Qatar

Ben Flanagan
Ben Flanagan - Al Arabiya News
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The head of Qatar Airways has dismissed calls by the International Labor Organization (ILO) for it to scrap “discriminatory” policies on cabin crew, saying the U.N. agency is pursuing a vendetta.

The ILO on Saturday published a report urging Qatar Airways to scrap a controversial clause in its employment contracts that allows it to sack cabin crew for falling pregnant.

It also called on Qatar Airways to review a ban on female cabin crew being dropped off at work by men they are not related to.

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.”

Qatar Airways introduced new contracts last December, which dropped a requirement that employees seek permission before getting married, according to the ILO. The airline also says expectant mothers can apply for ground-based jobs.

Yet the contract term that allows the airline to sack pregnant cabin crew remains, according to the ILO. Qatar Airways says the clause is justified, claiming expectant mothers are not physically fit to fly and are not able to meet job requirements, it was reported.

Qatar Airways did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Al Arabiya News.

Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, said that the airline was being “singled out” by the ILO.

“It’s no surprise that Qatar Airways dismisses this report, especially since the carrier has made efforts to change contracts and working practices. These changes aren’t just to deflect criticism, but it also helps the airline recruit as it expands,” Ahmad told Al Arabiya News.

“There are plenty of other industries where the ILO fails to make impact, so its pursuit of Qatar Airways is perhaps short-sighted and misguided,” he added.

“To single out Qatar Airways this way is counter-productive and it’s not a surprise that Abkar Al Baker rejected their findings. Ultimately, Qatar Airways has to be allowed to enact staff contracts that benefit the business and the employee… both sides need the other and the ILO should be facilitating that instead of taking the easy route of finger-pointing.”

Al Baker is known for his blunt remarks regarding allegations of discrimination at Qatar Airways and on other controversial issues.

Speaking to CNN in February, he said claims that the airline’s flight attendants were sacked if they got married were a “load of bull****."

Al Baker told the news network that claims, first made by the International Transport Workers' Federation in 2013, were untrue - adding that his company’s employment practices were “very progressive”.

Qatar Airways is also embroiled in a war of words with three U.S. carriers over claims that it has received billions of dollars in unfair government subsidies.

American Airlines, United and Delta claim that Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad have collectively received government subsidies amounting to $42 billion over 10 years. The Gulf airlines strenuously deny the claims.

Al Baker told Al Arabiya News in May that Richard Anderson, head of Delta, is a “bully” and a “liar” due to his involvement in the campaign against the Gulf airlines. He had earlier accused Delta of flying “crap” older planes, in another sign of the hostilities with the American carrier.

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