Qatar Airways has been accused of discriminating against female cabin crew by threatening to sack those who became pregnant and demanding that women ask permission to get married.
A United Nations agency ruled that the state-owned airline had breached an international convention by trying to “automatically terminate” women’s contracts if they became pregnant, The Times reported.
It told the government to review rules that banned female staff from being picked up at work by a man who was not their brother, father or husband — a move that Qatar said was a “cultural norm”.
There were also concerns over policies written into an old contract that required women to “obtain prior permission” before getting married. Qatar said that it had dropped the requirement in new contracts.
The conclusions came after a year-long investigation by the International Labour Organisation into claims that Qatar allowed the airline to violate a 57-year-old convention on employment discrimination.
It followed a case brought by the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the International Trade Union Confederation.
Further claims included that the airline spied on social media posts made by female cabin crew and that it confined staff to company premises — with the fire escapes and windows sealed off — before flights.
Speaking at the Paris Air Show the airline’s chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, said: “I don’t give a damn about the ILO. I am there to run a successful airline. 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.”
According to the labour organisation judgment, new contracts used by Qatar say that cabin crew were “considered unfit to fly during pregnancy”, adding:
“Accordingly, the company reserves the right to automatically terminate your contract as a flying cabin crew member should you become pregnant…Should another suitable ground position with Qatar Airways be available during this period you may apply and undergo the recruitment process for the position if found suitable.”
The ILO acknowledged there were health and safety reasons for not allowing cabin crew to fly while pregnant, but insisted the clause was discriminatory under UN law as it failed to protect the right to maternity leave.
It also demanded that the Qatari government “ensure that all cabin crew members are transferred” to the airline’s new contract.
Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, told the newspaper: “The attempts to tinker with the rules on pregnancy and marriage made once we brought this case show that Qatar Airways has been shamed into action — and more must come.
“We, along with everyone who works for the airline, will not rest until it addresses what many of those workers call the ‘climate of fear’.”
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