Qatar judges potential flight attendants on looks and personality, and no tattoos are allowed.
Employment policies include,
At the tryouts, information is shared about what the employees are signing up for. A pledge to stay single for five years, that permission from CEO Akbar Al Baker is required to marry as a flight attendant, and if you become pregnant, you must inform the company immediately. Also, Qatar Airways reserves the right to fire an employee without having to give a reason.
Qatar closely monitors flight attendant behavior both on duty and off. And, typical of employment in the region,
The entire country of Qatar adheres to a sponsorship system where the employer dictates the right of the employees to enter and exit the country, housing and they have a certain level of control of the employee’s bank account.
…Flight attendants, on the other hand, must request an exit visa for every trip. The chance to leave Qatar is used as leverage in a game of punishment, where six months of rejected exit visas is common punishment for a flight attendant who has done something wrong and issued a warning.
The piece passes along some hint of the rumors of expectations the airline’s CEO has for a subset of its flight attendants.
Qatar Airways has now responded to the allegations.
At the ITB travel fair in Berlin, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar al Baker condemned the article and said people were attacking Qatar because it had won the right to host the 2022 soccer World Cup.
While Qatar Airways may make a better target as 2022 actually approaches, because of increased international scrutiny, it seems far more important whether the criticisms are (1) accurate and (2) actually a problem.
Regarding the requirement that flight attendants not marry,
“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 also said that Qatar Airways made no secret of the conditions to employees, and provided them with a document stating the terms and conditions of their employment.
“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.”
Regarding terminating pregnant flight attendants,
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.
Pregnancy terminations are common with Gulf airlines, the piece points out, and not specific to Qatar.
And the jobs are desirable enough to attract many candidates.
Antinori and Al Baker highlighted the other benefits offered to employees, such as tax-free income and paid-for accommodation.
..”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.
So am I convinced?
As long as employment terms are clear my concerns about conditions in the UAE and in Qatar in particular really do not center around marriage and family requirements that flight attendants have to agree to in order to take these jobs.
For many, clearly, the pay and opportunities are far better than what they would have otherwise and so these requirements do not at all serve as a deterrent to applying for and accepting the positions.
My real concerns lie with the policies and practices that go unresponded to in the piece. It is no coincidence, I’m sure, that the more relatively defensible policies are the ones that the airline is choosing to speak to.
And in some sense I also think that points to a weakness in the original piece. Mixing together policies that may be anathema in the West and yet entirely voluntary and less damaging alongside much more harmful issues — holding of workers’ passports, which allows a company to exercise total dominion over an employee’s existence and a culture that may allow for the possible or rumored expectations of ‘companionship’ from flight attendants are far graver accusations and concerns.
Those go unanswered in the piece, and strike deeply at the heart of laws and norms which are embedded in these societies rather than being specific to any one airline or any one company doing business in the region.
Hopefully world attention in 2022 will shed a light on some of these things. China certainly made major efforts to appear positively on the world stage when it hosted the Olympics. Russia’s Sochi Winter Olympics may not have had the same effect.
What do you think? Are you persuaded by Qatar’s defense of its working conditions? Am I – unpersuaded – still too soft on them?
(HT: Point Me to the Plane)