* Qatar Airways under fire for working conditions
* Labour group ITF says Qatar's treatment worst for women
* Qatar CEO says criticism is veiled attack for World Cup
BERLIN, March 8 Qatar Airways and Emirates
Airline have defended their policies on pregnancy and
marriage for cabin crew after the Qatar carrier came under fire
over its working conditions.
The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is
running a campaign against Qatar Airways over its monitoring of
staff and rules preventing women from becoming pregnant and
It has called on women across the globe to speak out against
the airline on Saturday, International Women's Day.
"The treatment of workers at Qatar Airways goes further than
cultural differences. They are the worst for women's rights
among airlines," Gabriel Mocho, civil aviation secretary at the
international grouping of transport unions, told Reuters.
A Swedish newspaper last year published a report entitled
"The truth about the luxury of Qatar Airways", which described
restrictions imposed on cabin crew.
At the ITB travel fair in Berlin, Qatar Airways Chief
Executive Akbar al Baker reacted furiously to questions about
the article and said people were attacking Qatar because it had
won the right to host the 2022 soccer World Cup.
Qatar has been criticised for its treatment of migrant
workers helping build facilities for the World Cup.
"All this was a big sensational (effort) to target my
country because of 2022, saying people have no human rights. It
is not true," he told reporters.
Qatar Airways contracts forbid any member of the cabin crew,
the vast majority of whom are female, from marrying during the
first five years of their employment with the firm.
"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," Al Baker said.
He said because local regulations prevented pregnant cabin
crew from flying and the company did not have many ground jobs
available for them, pregnant women must often leave.
"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.
Cabin crew across the world may not work on board airplanes
once pregnant due to health concerns, although some countries
allow them to work for up to three months into the pregnancy.
Most airlines then find them work on the ground or put them
on maternity leave. In Europe, pregnant women are protected from
being fired or made redundant.
Emirates said it has a policy whereby female cabin crew that
become pregnant in the first three years have to leave.
"If you are hired by Emirates as a cabin crew, during the
first three years we expect from you to fly," Chief Commercial
Officer Thierry Antinori said.
Cabin crew who have been employed for more than three years
have the option of taking paid maternity leave.
Antinori and Al Baker highlighted the other benefits offered
to employees, such as tax-free income and paid-for
accommodation. Antinori, a French native who previously worked
for German carrier Lufthansa, also said Emirates
offered profit-sharing schemes.
"Last year, we had 129,000 applications for cabin crew at
Emirates. I do not think these are conditions that are making
people reluctant to work for us," he said.
Al Baker said Qatar Airways was recruiting 250 to 300 cabin
crew every month and that each open recruitment session saw
around 800 and 2,500 candidates.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, sexism in the industry was a
common issue, especially towards cabin crew, but the ITF said
such times were long past.
"You can't see that deep level of sexism anywhere now except
at these airlines in the Gulf," Mocho said.
International Women's Day has been observed for just over
100 years. According to the United Nations, it is a day when
women are recognised for their achievements without regard to
nationality, ethnicity, language, economics or politics.
(Reporting by Victoria Bryan and Tim Hepher; Additional
reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Alison Williams)