Trade union chiefs refute criticisms by Qatar Air CEO

Akbar Al Baker claimed unions are responsible for 'undermining successful institutions' in the West

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways CEO.

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways CEO.

International trade union bosses have hit out at claims by Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker the western world would not be faced with the stagnant growth and unemployment problems it is currently straddled with and blamed trade unions for “undermining successful institutions”.

“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,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker told Arabian Business in an interview.

The aviation boss’ comments were in response to criticism by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), which represents around 4.5 million transport workers in 150 countries, who hit out at Qatar’s offer to move the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) from Montreal to Doha, citing its banning of trade unions as a negative factor.

The headquarters of the ICAO has been resident in the Canadian city of Montreal since 1946 and authorities in Doha have offered to build the organisation a new headquarters when its 20 year lease comes up for renewal in 2016.

“The UN cannot bend to the power of the Riyal at a time when ordinary Qataris’ fights for rights are met with massive repression. It’s doubly outrageous when thousands of staff at Qatar Airways are denied the fundamental right to union membership enshrined by the UN,” ITF president Paddy Crumlin said in a statement.

“This is all excuses,” Al Baker said of the ITF’s comments. “There are many countries in the world where unions are not allowed and they have UN bodies in those countries. Workers have absolute rights in our country.”

In response, the ITF general secretary David Cockroft told Arabian Business: "Akbar Al Baker has singlehandedly made the case against relocating ICAO to Qatar. It is comments like these that have caused revulsion around the world.

"His dreams of stripping the basic rights of workers are so repugnant to those who work for and with ICAO that he has done us a considerable favour by underlining what the consequences would be of any such change."

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has also been a regular critic of Qatar’s labour policies and also recently weighted in on the issue.

"These comments underline the democratic deficit in Qatar that has caused such a strong reaction against its government's wild idea of snatching the ICAO HQ for Doha,” Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said in a statement to Arabian Business.

Al Baker has always rejected such statements and viewed them as an attempt to stifle the country’s progress.

He said: “This is all rubbish… This is just for people who try to block the progress of Arab countries. They try to block Arab countries getting involved in international institutions. I think with us, right to strike does not mean that workers do not have rights.”

Al Baker revealed that he is fan of recently deceased former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – who infamously had her own bitter battles with British trade unions – and added that a prominent British Labour leader, who he refused to name, also agreed with his stance that trade unions have had a negative impact on economic growth.

“I was talking to a politician, a very prominent politician from the Labour and he mentioned to me that he wish that the unions were not allowed… What more do you want?

“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.

Said Elhairech, general secretary of the Moroccan Ports Union and chair of the ITF Arab World regional committee added: "Transport unions in the Arab world stand together as one in calling for all workers in the Gulf to have the right to organise.

"Unions were never a cause of company failure - on the contrary, dialogue between unions and employers is a cause of progress and development. Workers should have a voice thorough their elected representatives".

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Posted by: N.S.

I totally agree with Akbar Al Baker. Trade unions were created with splendid ideas then became political entities and take sides regardless of logics. Economies are mostly made by investors, entrepreneurs risking their moneys. Of course there must be entities defending certain basic rights, but these shouldn't favor anarchy which is what happens often in the West. I am a businessman and for these reasons I have decided to relocate myself and my businesses outside Europe and today I am utmost convinced I made the right decision. The best part of this is that all my Western employees and associates think the same.

Posted by: DubaiOZ

@ Qatari is always there to defend the indefensible when it comes to Qatar. No doubt driving about in ac luxury while the workers toil. Does it matter that they are not paid, live in squalid conditions or ripped off. Nope - that's their embassies problem.
People come to work in good faith, they built your palaces, villas and shiny buildings and Qatar does have a duty of care to ensure all are treated fairly. But that may just cost.

Posted by: Jibber Jabber

Qatari's know the cost of everything and the value of nothing . They want a hand in everyones business but no responibility or accountability for their own actions .

It's a local mindset here , don't worry though ,we're only here fpr the money , there's nothing else that's worth having.

Posted by: Born to be rich and bad

What you are saying is part of human behaviour Ethical sociaty and fairness towards the needing and poorer people. but what the hek, that doesn't make us qataris rich. we want people to be nice and fair to us we don't want to be fair and nice to others. we have the money so we have the power.

Posted by: Peter

In my specific case, my employer has not paid me for several months. I have left the country and I am attempting to recover my money with no success.
I have called hundreds of times the HR department with not one single person replying. I have emailed them and with the same results.
I have tried to call the Qatari Labor department hundreds of times with not one single person answering the phone and emails bounced back or not replied to.
I have contacted the Qatari Consulate in the city I live in now and they discharged any responsibility or will to help me.
I have contacted the Human rights Commission in Qatar (, the phone number displayed in their website (+974 4408844) does NOT belong to them and the emails are bounced back with error. No one can help me in Qatar and no one cares.
Is this the Qatar that the Qataris think they have or the Qatar they want to show to the world?
That is why AlAbaker does not want unions in Qatar, so he can control his staff.

Posted by: Peter

My comment illustrates how Qatar operates. My dear friend if I was an exception, I wouldn't use my experience to illustrate the trend. In qatar government or even institutions like human rights commission, nobody cares about anything. They are simply not motivated or used to work. They are used to be served!
ICAO in qatar will be another disaster as the human rights commission and many other organizations in qatar. Go there and see by yourself!

Posted by: Sarcasim

I am sure your comment has nothing to do with Qatar?s offer to move the UN?s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) from Montreal to Doha.

Posted by: another guest

Dear Qatari,
embassies are not there to protect individual rights, mainly exist to protect the interests of huge multinational companies and their trade deals. Did Governments advise Nepalise workers that their 450 qr wages per month wouldn't buy them a packet of cigarettes, a soft drink and a sharwarma sandwich per day, when they hoped to be sending money home to support the family and pay off the debt that they incurred to get their dream Gulf job? Of course not.
What happens when the promised contract is replaced by another when they land. What happens to those poor people left hanging around the arrivals terminal when no one turns up to meet them.
If these things happen in Qatar doesn't Qatar have a responsibility? The Qatari Government recognises this in having a strong labour law, which will be improved, when will people like you stand back and walk in the exploites shoes for a minute!

Posted by: Qatari

Embassies are not there to protect individual rights ! What planet do you come from ?

Cigarettes, soft drink and a Shwarma ? Do you mean Consumer Price Index ? Why do I feel like I'm arguing with a 12 year old ?

Posted by: guest

No one is asking for undeserved "rights", most people recognise, as Islamic Law does, that people must be fairly treated. If this does not happen what can the individual do, complain to the sponsor and be deported as a troublemaker? Does this happen, I'm sure it does in some undefined number of cases? If Unions exist one has a powerful friend who can disinterestedly present your case. I've never had the opportunity to belong to a Union but would appreciate that help if I was in dispute with my employer.
I'm sure the thousands of people deported every year would appreciate such disinterested help also. No Qatari need fear such "rights" if they act as employers and business partners behave fairly as internationally agreed conventions and Islamic laws require. Those who don't cannot hope to hide behind the Sponsorship system forever. I meet many people in Qatar who have lived here for decades without major problems, however one case of abuse can destroy reputations.

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