Etihad Airways on Friday hit back after a US-based union urged its brand ambassador Nicole Kidman to reconsider her role with the airline over its treatment of female employees.
The Hollywood star has been criticised by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) for her new ad campaign with the Abu Dhabi carrier.
Last month Kidman was revealed as the face and voice for Etihad Airways' new Flying Reimagined brand campaign, with the commercial shot onboard Etihad's new flagship Airbus A380 and in locations around the world, including various landmarks in Abu Dhabi.
In an open letter to Kidman, Laura Glading, the president of the union, which represents 25,000 American flight attendants, claimed the sponsorship deal was at odds with the Oscar winner’s role as a United Nations women’s goodwill ambassador.
In a statement, Etihad rejected the allegation, saying its commitment to its employees was a top priority.
In the letter, Glading wrote: “Last month, on March 8, International Women’s Day, you said, ‘I envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights ... Now is the time to step it up’.
“Later that very same week, we saw that you had begun appearing in a new campaign for Etihad, a company that the Wall Street Journal has publicly reported ‘may fire women if they become pregnant’ and forces flight attendants to live in ‘confinement’ in secure compounds’
“These are the types of conditions that APFA fought to eradicate decades ago in the United States.”
But in a detailed rebuttal, Etihad Airways said it was one of world’s most popular new employers of the 21st century.
"We strive to attract the top talent in the industry and it’s working. Last year, we were inundated with requests from people for the opportunities Etihad Airways offers – with more than 260,000 who applied to join the airline from all over the world - 57 times more applications than we had total job openings which included 1,700 crew position and approximately 500 pilot openings."
The airline said that in a recent independent employee opinion survey, 93 percent said they are proud to work at Etihad Airways and the overall employee engagement score of 76 percent was 18 percent better than that of the global average.
The statement added: "Our commitment to the welfare, safety, and well-being of the diverse group of men and women who have worked so hard to make Etihad Airways great is one of our airline’s top priorities."
Specifically addressing the claims about pregnancy, Etihad said it "fully supports its cabin crew during and after their pregnancy".
"When a cabin crew member informs Etihad of a pregnancy, she is provided with appropriate ground duties for the duration of their pregnancy. During this time, she remains fully compensated and fully engaged on the ground.
"Cabin crew are also entitled to paid maternity leave if they have completed more than one year’s service. Our cabin crew are then able to return to their flying role at the end of their maternity leave period. The health and safety of our cabin crew remains paramount. Therefore, we follow the GCAA requirement that crew do not continue to fly while pregnant."
Etihad Airways said it currently employs 24,000 staff from more than 140 different nationalities, many of whom have come from unionised airlines in the US and the European Union.