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.
By Shane McGinley
Tue 14 May 2013 12:55 PM

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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