Qatar Airways eases cabin crew policies after criticism

The changes, on policies such as pregancy and marriage, have been driven mostly by the need to retain crew members as the carrier expands.

Qatar airways pilots and cabin staff wait at an airport departure gate before boarding a flight. Loop Images / UIG via Getty Images
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Qatar Airways has eased its policy of restricting female cabin crew from getting married and pregnant following accusations of discrimination by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Rossen Dimitrov, the airline’s senior vice president who oversees its 9,500 flight attendants, 80 per cent of whom are women, confirmed the easing of the policy and pledged to review a curfew and other concerns.

“As the airline matures, the workforce matures,” he said. “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.”

Bloomberg reported that Qatar Airways crew no longer risk being fired if they marry within their first five years of employment or become pregnant.

In June, the ILO published a report detailing its recommendations to Qatar on how the airline should change its employment rules to end discrimination. The report was triggered by complaints from global workers’ rights movements, the ILO said.

Rules cited as discriminatory included the requirement that employees get permission to change their marital status, the automatic dismissal of cabin crew members who fell pregnant and surveillance of the employees’ private lives.

Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, said the ILO had “a vendetta” against the airline.

“My country has responded to the ILO accusations in a very robust way. We clarified the clauses in our contract,” he said in June.

Under new contracts, pregnant women will now be offered temporary ground jobs, and they can get married at any time after notifying the company.

Mr Dimitrov said the changes had been driven mostly by the need to retain crew members as the carrier expands. Qatar Airways will add at least 6,000 flight attendants in the next two years, to crew 320 new aircraft worth US$70 billion it has on order.

The airline has leased about 90 apartment buildings in Doha, where most crew members live rent-free.

Mr Dimitrov said the housing proved that the airline takes care of its workers.

A new 914-bed development called Crew City is scheduled to open in October. It is intended as a perk for women who have been with Qatar Airways for at least four years, and features one-bedroom and two-bedroom flats, a pool, gym, sauna, grocery store, cafe and laundry.

Emirates last year described its cabin crew policies as “generous”.

The airline said that cabin crew who had been employed by Emirates for more than three years had the option of taking paid maternity leave.

But for those who became pregnant during their first three years, alternative work could not be guaranteed, said a spokesman.

In April, Etihad Airways said that its benefits went beyond the requirements of UAE laws.

It did so in response to criticism from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants that it “fully supports its cabin crew during and after their pregnancy”.

“When a cabin crew member informs Etihad of a pregnancy, she is provided with appropriate ground duties for the duration of their pregnancy. During this time, she remains fully compensated and fully engaged on the ground.

“Cabin crew are also entitled to paid maternity leave if they have completed more than one year’s service. Our cabin crew are able to return to their flying role at the end of the maternity leave.”

* with Bloomberg News

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