Updated at 11:56am to add Al Baker’s response to Gulf states and terrorism
Qatar Airways’ chief executive has denied claims that the airline maintains sexist policies that require female flight attendants to ask for permission to get married or get pregnant, telling CNN: “That is not true. That is a load of bullsh–.”
Akbar Al Baker was responding to previously circulating allegations, which most recently were reported in the Washington Post, that Qatar’s national carrier only hires single female cabin crew and that the women sign a contract that prevents them from getting married until five years after working for the company.
The airline has also been accused of requiring female flight attendants to inform their bosses as soon as they know they are pregnant, which can effectively lead to them losing their jobs and residency in Qatar.
When asked about these policies during a live TV interview yesterday with CNN business anchor Richard Quest, Al Baker said that the airline operated “progressive” work practices:
“That is not true. That is a load of bullsh–. This is people creating issues because we don’t have unions and this is what they don’t like.
Our work practices are very progressive. People have all the rights they require, and what rumors are being circulated is absolutely untrue.”
He added that he believed the “unsubstantiated” rumors were part of a smear campaign against Gulf carriers.
A Qatar Airways spokesman was not immediately available to comment to Doha News on the airline’s HR policies.
But in response to the Post’s article, the carrier said in a statement that it does hire cabin crew members who are already married, and that single employees do not have to ask the airline for permission to marry.
However, it did not mention whether its married cabin crew are male or female. Nor did it address the issue of whether staff must wait for five years before they are permitted to get married.
“Qatar Airways flight attendants do not have to be, or remain single. Many of our cabin crew are in fact married,” Rossen Dimitrov, Qatar Airways Senior Vice President Customer Experience, said.
Dimitrov conceded that female cabin crew do have to tell the airline if they are pregnant, as required by Qatar’s civil aviation authority, “for health and safety reasons.”
Those who are unable to fly are “assisted with finding suitable ground positions,” he added.
These latest statements are contrary to comments Al Baker made on the same subject in March last year, when addressing the issue to journalists at the ITB Travel Fair in Berlin.
At that time, he said: “If you come to seek employment with Qatar Airways, we give you a document that these are the rules and regulations, if you as a mature individual accept those conditions, then you shouldn’t complain.”
The official also did not deny at the time that the airline sometimes ended the contracts of pregnant cabin crew, saying that Qatar Airways had only a limited number of ground roles it could offer pregnant crew, who are unable to fly due to health concerns:
“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,” Al Baker added.
The airline has for some time come under fire from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), and in 2013, the union claimed that standard hiring contracts by Gulf carriers for female cabin crew members were sexist and restricted their human rights.
Also during yesterday’s CNN interview, Al Baker responded to the most recent criticism leveled against Gulf carriers by some US airlines, who said their competitors had an unfair business advantage due to government “subsidies.”
Last week, several US carriers asked American politicians to restrict the Gulf carriers’ access to their market.
In a joint interview with the Wall Street Journal, the heads of Delta, United and American airlines said their Gulf counterparts had received US$42.3 billion in “quantifiable” subsidies since 2004.
That’s in addition to other benefits, such as tax exemptions, breaks on paying for airport infrastructure and anti-union laws that keep wages low.
Days later, the CEO of Delta Airlines, Richard Anderson, said that the UAE (Emirates and Etihad airlines) and Qatar Airways are not airlines, they are governments. He also suggested GCC nations were were responsible for US airline woes after Sept. 11, 2001, saying:
“It’s a great irony to have the UAE from the Arabian Peninsula talk about that given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11, which came from terrorists from the Arabian Peninsula, which caused us to go through a massive restructuring.”
Speaking to Quest, Al Baker denied that his airline – which has been state-owned since 2013 – received any government aid, saying: “We don’t receive any subsidy. What the government has given us is equity into an airline which it owns.”
He added, according to Arabian Business:
“(Anderson) should be ashamed to bring up the issue of terrorism in order to hide his inefficiency in running an airline. He should compete with us instead of cry wolf for his shortcomings.”
Finally, Al Baker countered claims that Qatar Airways had an unfair business advantage by lower fees charged at its hub of Hamad International Airport compared to, for example British Airways at Heathrow airport.
“I don’t think that is true. The airport is part of the government infrastructure and the fees that are charged to Qatar Airways are also charged to all the foreign carriers that operate from there.
So there is no subsidy or assistance given to Qatar Airways,” he added.