Gulf airlines defend female cabin crew policies

Emirates, Qatar Airways defend policies on pregnancy and marriage amid union criticism

Emirates cabin crew. (Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

Emirates cabin crew. (Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

Qatar Airways and Emirates Airline have defended their policies on pregnancy and marriage for cabin crew after the Qatar carrier came under fire over its working conditions.

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is running a campaign against Qatar Airways over its monitoring of staff and rules preventing women from becoming pregnant and getting married.

It has called on women across the globe to speak out against the airline on Saturday, International Women's Day.

"The treatment of workers at Qatar Airways goes further than cultural differences. They are the worst for women's rights among airlines," Gabriel Mocho, civil aviation secretary at the international grouping of transport unions, told Reuters.

A Swedish newspaper last year published a report entitled "The truth about the luxury of Qatar Airways", which described restrictions imposed on cabin crew.

At the ITB travel fair in Berlin, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar al Baker reacted furiously to questions about the article and said people were attacking Qatar because it had won the right to host the 2022 soccer World Cup.

Qatar has been criticised for its treatment of migrant workers helping build facilities for the 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.

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.

"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," Al 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.

Emirates 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.

Cabin crew who have been employed for more than three years have the option of taking paid maternity leave.

Antinori and Al Baker highlighted the other benefits offered to employees, such as tax-free income and paid-for accommodation. Antinori, a French native who previously worked for German carrier Lufthansa, also said Emirates offered profit-sharing schemes.

"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," he said.

Al Baker said Qatar Airways was recruiting 250 to 300 cabin crew every month and that each open recruitment session saw around 800 and 2,500 candidates.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, sexism in the industry was a common issue, especially towards cabin crew, but the ITF said such times were long past.

"You can't see that deep level of sexism anywhere now except at these airlines in the Gulf," Mocho said.

International Women's Day has been observed for just over 100 years. According to the United Nations, it is a day when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to nationality, ethnicity, language, economics or politics.

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Posted by: Name withheld

"Cabin crew who have been employed for more than three years have the option of taking paid maternity leave."

"Antinori...also said Emirates offered profit-sharing schemes."

Maybe Mr Antinori is new to Emirates, but knowing 1st hand the working conditions of Emirates Airlines, they DO NOT offer maternity leave for pregnant crew.

And, yes, while contractually Emirates crew do belong to a profit sharing scheme, this has recently been interpreted by chairman and Chief Executive, Sheikh Ahmed as a 'bonus' which has, for the past 2 years, not been given to any flight crew, including flight deck.

Emirates Airlines has consistently made profit since it began operations, and especially in the past few years (see their annual shareholders reports). Yet none of that profit has been shared with staff since 2011. Their excuse is 'expansion', and instead they apologise for lack of "bonus" and ask staff to be vigilant. But it is widespread breach of contract by the company.

Posted by: Saudi Engineer

What I see here is a lot of hate mongering - from both sides. I'm not sure why most of the comments on AB have become attacks. Attacks on individuals and on groups who don't necessarily share the same opinion as me.

Posted by: Billy

Dear Saudi Engineer....the sad thing is that you and people like you see anyone who does not share your opinion as attacking you, or being hate mongers. Get over it and join the civilized world where differences of opinion are valued and considered. Who knows you might even become a decent human being as part of the process.

Posted by: Margaret

Not only will the flight attendants lose their jobs if they become pregnant, but in Qatar, it is against the law to become pregnant if you are unmarried. If non-Muslim, they will typically receive 12 months jail time. If Muslim, the punishment can also include lashings. If they are married, but working unaccompanied in Qatar, the government will actually verify if they went home on leave 9 months earlier (time of conception). Yet, Qatar actually hosts conventions on Human Rights. They have far to go in that department.

Posted by: Peter

"All this was a big sensational (effort) to target my country because of 2022, saying people have no human rights. It is not true,"

Really?! how can he say that with a straight face. This has nothing to do with 2022

So trying to make it sound like people are attacking them as an act of jealousy seems ridiculous and a desperate attempt to derail the conversation and coverup the real issue

Posted by: zak

Can I please understand why Emirates does not allow Veiled (muhajabah) hostesses, such as saudi or other asian airline. Isn't that sad from an airline that represents a country that talk about human rights and freedom of religion...
its just sad...

Posted by: Rupert

I think it is wise of Emirates to recognize the veil has no place in a modern environment.
If today you allow the veil, tomorrow they will ask for the right to pray, and then the right to have Halal food. Do not let Emirates go the way of the UK which has drowned in political correctness

Posted by: Ponder

Seriously Zak? What next? A flight attendant can refuse to serve alcohol? Or not talk to a man who isnt related to her?

Where does it stop? How will they service the passengers on board? Increasing work load on others basically?!

Most airlines try to go for a most neutral middle of the road look onboard with hints of local touches from land of origin. Thus SQ and MH have their attendants dressed in sarong kebaya with color scheme of outfits and cabins stressing local tones/colors.

Drinks, cocktails/mocktails are served based on local fruit blends BUT it stops there. They dont only force you to only eat sambal or bakmi goreng.

Why does everything have to have religion and or particular interpretations of culture dragged into it?

Oh...and EK full outfit has a scarf built into the headgear that crew can wear at airports/transit/boarding and landing time. But maybe thats not good enough for you, pls buy EK and executive order a rule change!

Posted by: Jonnie Millar

I have travelled on many ME and Asian airlines (including Saudi Arabian Airlines) and though there have been female cabin crew on board. none have ever been veiled.

I'd imagine this is due to international regulations on safety rather than anything else. as in an emergency, cabin crew would need to exercise full peripheral vision and any veiling may impede this.

Anyone got other thoughts on this?

Posted by: James Marshall

zak, are you out of this world ? You mean to say you would like veiled hostesses (nothing but the eyes) on Emirates Airlines ? Emirates Airline is an "international" airline and though it may be based in Dubai, most of the hostesses are not Arabs and are non-Muslims anyway. And your argument about human rights and freedom of religion does not make sense when complaining about the non-existance of veils on hostesses

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