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Friday, October 30, 2020

Qatar Airways loosens restrictions on cabin crew as company ‘matures’

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Qatar Airways cabin crew disembarking after the airline's inaugural Boeing 787 flight
Qatar Airways cabin crew disembarking after the airline’s inaugural Boeing 787 flight

Qatar Airways cabin crew will now be allowed to continue to work for the airline while pregnant, the company has said.

The change of contract terms means that instead of automatically losing their jobs, crew will now be offered temporary roles on the ground.

The move, which comes amid staff retention concerns, follows another amendment to contracts made last December that allow cabin crew to marry in the first five years of service without having to ask permission from the company.

Previously, crew who married without permission were fired.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker

A spokesperson for Qatar Airways told AFP that the new rules had been “phased in” over the past six months.

It is understood that other restrictions governing the lives of the airline’s cabin crew, like a ban on being driven around by male friends and a night-time curfew remain in place.

Still, the policy switch for pregnant employees represents a significant change of heart at Qatar Airways, whose CEO has previously told reporters that staff “shouldn’t complain” if they understood the terms of the contract that they were signing.

In comments made in March last year, Akbar Al Baker said that the airline believed it needed to get “a good return” on the investment it made while training its cabin crew:

“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,” 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.”

At the time, Al Baker added 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,” he said.

Criticism from the UN

The improvement in working conditions follows a high profile campaign to improve the terms of employment for the airline’s 9,500 cabin crew, the majority of whom are female.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In June this year, the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) called on Qatar’s national carrier to scrap several working stipulations for its female employees, including the rules for pregnant cabin crew.

The ILO had published a report that investigated complaints filed by two labor advocacy groups, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF).

Although it did not support all of the complaints made by the unions, it did endorse calls for the termination of cabin crew contracts during pregnancy to be scrapped.

It also called for the ban on cabin crew accepting rides from male friends to and from their home to be lifted.

Staff retention concerns

Despite intense media scrutiny of its terms and conditions for cabin crew, Qatar Airways insists that the decision to amend employee contracts was made following a “review of working practices” that management initiated last year – and not because of criticism from the ILO.

This assertion is backed up by previous statements made by Akbar Al Baker at the Paris Air Show earlier this year, where he reportedly dismissed the ILO’s findings:

“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,” Reuters quoted Al Baker as saying.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Rossen Dimitrov, senior vice president at the airline in charge of cabin crew, said that the rule changes were being made to help the airline retain its staff.

“As the airline matures, the workforce matures. You can’t turn to someone who is 35 years old and say ‘No, you can’t have a family, wait.’ We want to retain people,” he said.

According to Dimitrov, Qatar Airways needs to recruit at least 6,000 more cabin crew in the next two years, as its forges ahead with its plans for rapid expansion, with new jets being delivered on a regular basis.

The airline has more than 200 new aircraft on order, more than twice the number of jets – 157 – that it currently operates.

The airline’s increased staffing needs mean that as well as continuing with cabin crew recruitment drives around the world, the company also now needs to focus on persuading its current crew to remain with the airline.

Staff meetings

To this end, the company has been holding a series of meetings for its existing cabin crew to explain recent improvements in their contracts, as well as inviting them to raise concerns.

The airline recently invited a journalist from Bloomberg to attend one of the meetings, although it did so on the proviso that the reporter would not report what airline officials said during the session.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The resulting story does however report some of the concerns raised by existing crew, including a ban on using mobile phones while in uniform, and a night-time curfew that requires employees to return to their company-provided housing between 4am and 7am every night, unless on duty.

It is understood that the airline has also held similar meetings for its pilots, resulting in some improvements in contractual terms and conditions for the airline’s flight crew.

Qatar Airways is not the only airline in the region dealing with grievances from unhappy staff. Cabin crew from Dubai-based Emirates have also recently been attending meetings with management to talk about issues stemming from the airline’s rapid expansion.

Emirates cabin crew have told the Wall Street Journal that they are now working more shifts with shorter layover times, and that some crew have had their leave entitlement postponed to cover staff shortages.

No unions

Such meetings with management are unusual in the Gulf, where foreign workers are prohibited from organizing into unions.

In the past, Al Baker has said that this ban has helped his airline and other Gulf companies to be more successful and competitive.

However, the prohibition is not looked upon favorably by many of the airline’s overseas competitors.

Two years ago, Qatar tried to convince the UN civil aviation body ICAO to shift its headquarters from Montreal to Doha, but quickly withdrew the bid over international furor about the idea.

At the time, Al Baker hit back at the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) ‘s suggestion that it should not host ICAO because it prohibits trade unions:

“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.

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.”

Qatar Airways has not yet responded to questions from Doha News about its new policies.

Thoughts?

31 COMMENTS

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KK
KK
5 years ago

I have not used Qatar Airways for the 2 years and happily lost my ‘privilege’ status. Like, Baker, I do not give a damn and in this case this means: QA. I am happy using professional carriers such as Lufthansa and Emirates as alternatives.

Jesús
Jesús
5 years ago
Reply to  KK

Good for you, I prefer QA.

johnny wang
johnny wang
5 years ago

Wow interesting now the management might take the pleasure to decide who can get pregnant and when and where.

Ali
Ali
5 years ago

Why do QR bow to external demands and never listen to internal requests?!

Andrew
Andrew
5 years ago
Reply to  Ali

Because the international bodies were putting pressure on the management of Barcelona to walk away from the Qatar Airways sponsorship deal. The union movement emailed all the voting members of the club and urged them to vote for a candidate who would find ab alternative sponsor. It all comes back to money, although staff welfare has indirectly benefited.

Huzz
Huzz
5 years ago
Reply to  Ali

When QR has Qatari Cabin Crew then they may listen to internal voices.

The Reporter
The Reporter
5 years ago
Reply to  Huzz

Which is why QA has no Qatari cabin crew

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago
Reply to  The Reporter

Qatari men and women wouldn’t accept to work in a job where they have to serve expats (or other locals), offer them alcoholic drinks and clean their dirt when they finish their meals. It is beneath them.
And I am not making this up. I have read it in a tweet by a famous Qatari journalist here.

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago

Guess what, I totally agree with Al Baker on his comment concerning unions. Unions around the world have rarely achieved any good to their companies by striking and halting production. Most of the time, they accelerate the death of their companies or force them to relocate somewhere else. That said, there has to be some sort of both government and employee cooperation with managers to avoid bad management and reckless decisions. Unions have largely failed in this role, so a new approach must be devised.

Enceladus
Enceladus
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

It seems “I don’t give a damn”, ” this is a load of BS” or “the crap of the unions” are his “new approach”.

Huzz
Huzz
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

It depends on the industry involved. White collar unions tend to be more flexible.

SullyofDoha
SullyofDoha
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Yacine,
Unions in the first world are a bit of a sham. They poach membership from other unions and provide little return for their collective membership. However, unions in the past have been instrumental in achieving better working conditions for their respective industries at the turn of the last century. However, it also came with much blood being spilled and with much self reflection from their respective societies. Not sure how well that would go over here. If people strike and the government sends in the troops, would Qataris really give a damn? After all, it would not be the pain and anguish of their own sons and daughters…

Curiosity Killed the Cat
Curiosity Killed the Cat
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

We had a good to and fro Yacine, same topic, months ago, and now we have change in my favour. I think the next will be in your favour, Mr Baker will seek his revenge in being cornered into this one, the PR people will have worked him. His revenge will be taken out on who? Yes probably on his own, maybe compulsory 20hr day contracts “oh but they agree so it’s fine”. Maybe compulsory 1 kidney donation contracts “oh but they agree so it’s fine”. But don’t worry, I don’t think Qatar Airways will be relocating to another country, it will continue to be the 5 star airline that serves weird chicken sandwiches with a 3 year expiry date.

Dobbin_the_Wonder_Horse
Dobbin_the_Wonder_Horse
5 years ago

“the 5 star airline that serves weird chicken sandwiches with a 3 year expiry date.”

QA summed up in a sentence!

Jen
Jen
5 years ago

Oh yes-those horrible,horrible,horrible ” sandwhiches” served toward the end of a flight as a snack! I tried 3 times to eat one-never again! Wish they,d rather give something else.

Susan
Susan
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Unions don’t exist to serve the companies; they exist to protect the workers and their rights. And they have done wonderful things. In the United States, “…organized labor unions fought for better wages, reasonable hours and safer working conditions. The labor movement led efforts to stop child labor, give health benefits and provide aid to workers who were injured or retired.” (http://www.history.com/topics/labor).

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago
Reply to  Susan

They did good things few times, and bad things many times also. Unions in the U.S. Are not particularly strong compared to their European counterparts, that is why US businesses have been more flexible than Europeans in exploring new markets and innovating their business models.

Katie
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

What alternative would you suggest, Yacine?

Katie

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago
Reply to  Katie

I do not have an alternative, that is why I said an alternative has to be devised, obviously based on the input of all stakeholders, including unions themselves.

The Reporter
The Reporter
5 years ago

“The ILO has a vendetta against QA and my country” – Not a vendetta Mr. Baker – just asking you to implement labour laws and conditions that recognise peoples human rights.

MIMH
MIMH
5 years ago

Such disgusting discrimination against women in the Middle East again. QA should be reminded getting pregnant is not a deliberate ploy to cause trouble but a biological fact. To penalize women due to their biology shows Mr Al Baker to not only be a bad employer but the lowest of men. I have the upmost sympathy for women in his family

Zeit
Zeit
5 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Lol. This coming from a person who has a history of making misogynistic comments. Such crocodile tears.
Also tell the same to US, which doesnt even provide maternity leave.

MIMH
MIMH
5 years ago
Reply to  Zeit

Lol. Not sure how you got that.

Bajn
Bajn
5 years ago

So that’s what a pregnant woman looks like 🙂

Katie
5 years ago

QR has a disgusting attitude to women. That stunt they pulled shaming the apparently drunk girl a few months ago was absolutely awful.

I’ve come across this ‘You knew these were the rules when you signed up’ attitude here before, but that absolutely doesn’t negate a right to disagree with them. Emirates girls don’t have these rules applied to them and they seem to get on fine.

They might have fewer problems in this area if they advertised for male crew as well as female.

Katie

Enceladus
Enceladus
5 years ago
Reply to  Katie

“To women”… And towards men too.

Katie
5 years ago
Reply to  Enceladus

I agree, male staff aren’t well treated either, but some of their policies just seem deeply misogynistic.

Katie

Enceladus
Enceladus
5 years ago
Reply to  Katie

I reminded something reading this topic and particularly after your post… “people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers”. Compare the rate of resignations in QA with other airlines in the region. Insane.

Katie
5 years ago
Reply to  Enceladus

In this case, I think it’s probably both.

Stockport1987
Stockport1987
5 years ago

I made the conscious decision never to fly QA again as i found there staff unfriendly and more like school teachers. Emirates all the way now. But………..maybe a happy home makes for a happy work enviroment

Diego
Diego
5 years ago

Looks like QA and Al Baker “maturing” means being brought into the real world of treating humans with respect or is that saving the business line during expansion/relationships with certain football clubs and least of all, what the international body perceives.

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