The ITF has publicly and repeatedly challenged the airline’s dictatorial treatment of its workers, and is part of the union Rerun the Vote initiative (rerunthevote.org), which aims to deprive the country of the right to stage the 2022 World Cup while it continues to shrug off the deaths and maltreatment of workers building the infrastructure for the event.
In October last year the ITF called on Barcelona FC to publicly reject further links with the airline, whose values are incompatible with those of the club. In a letter to Josep Maria Bartomeu, ITF general secretary Steve Cotton stated:
The ITF has made no secret of its belief that Qatar Airways’ sponsorship of Barcelona FC is incompatible with the club’s code of ethics, and strong social and charitable mission. Like many of your fans we have always questioned the sponsorship deal. We are confident that those fans, and indeed the club’s players, will be prouder of the club’s achievements if the company’s name is removed from their shirts.
Qatar Airways is an organisation that, in its treatment of many of its staff, shuns the values of justice and fairness that FC Barcelona seeks to uphold. The ITF has published chapter and verse listing the airline’s offences. These are so serious that we have submitted a case against the state of Qatar to the International Labour Organization*. If the World Cup were to be held in Qatar there is no doubt that the airline – an extension of the same Qatari government whose bid for it is under investigation, and which has allowed migrant workers to slave on the construction of stadia and infrastructure in conditions of appalling discomfort and danger – would play a prominent role.
In the light of this, and the work done by the ITF, International Trade Union Confederation and many others to expose conditions in Qatar and in the airline, we trust that you will make the only possible decision, and reject further sponsorship by Qatar Airways once the current deal expires. We urge you to do so, and to do so publicly.
Speaking today about the club’s decision to reconsider the sponsorship deal, Steve Cotton stated: “We’re delighted that Barca has done the right thing. It has listened to public and expert opinion. For as long as this airline and its host country shun basic rights and turn a blind eye to suffering they have no place on the shirts and the stadium of a club that is dedicated to upholding social and community values.”
ITF president Paddy Crumlin stated: “Qatar is on trial not just at the ILO, but in the court of world opinion. We hope that the day will come sooner rather than later when it and its airline put justice first and abide by their human and international obligations.”
What’s wrong at Qatar Airways?
Qatar Airways (QR) is a successful, growing, cash-rich, state-owned airline. It’s also an organisation with a secret to hide: that it subjects its workforce – recruited from around the world – to a regime of curfews, surveillance and constant fear of sacking and even arrest. The phrase that time and time again its workers reach for when talking to us is that they live in ‘a climate of fear’.
A QR cabin crew member explains: ‘All the cabin crew live in company accommodations and cannot move out. There are cameras in every building and security guard watching everything you do, and the only way to go in or out of your accommodation is by swiping your ID card otherwise the doors won't open, this way they can keep track of the exact times when you leave or come in. I believed this is very dangerous specially in case of a fire or something. There's a housing department, and they randomly have spotchecks in your apartment, if you have alcohol, cigarettes, pork products, or anything that is not allow by them you are sacked immediately. Also you have a curfew to be back in your accommodation every single day since the first day you arrive… this includes on your days off, meaning you can ever stay outside. Many people get sacked daily … for reasons you will never believe. The biggest problem is there are no workers rights in this country so there's nowhere to complain, if you don't like anything you simply get sacked and if that happens before completing 2 years with the company you have to pay a bond which many cannot afford. And the only way to leave the country is by the company authorizing an exit permit, so you are basically trapped, many employees who have been in trouble for stupid reasons and are suspended from flying are trapped in Doha for even months with no salary waiting for clearance by the airline, payment of your bond etc. Nobody knows what to expect until they arrive here they don't mention this things during the recruitment process.”
The following are some of the rules in the QR code of conduct for cabin crew. According to many of the airline’s workers who have contacted us they are just the tip of the iceberg of the kind of arbitrary rulings that have led to instant dismissal:
• Information pertaining to the company must never be disclosed to or discussed with any person outside of Qatar Airways
• Consuming alcohol when in uniform, on or off duty is strictly prohibited. Crewmembers are prohibited from entering a bar in uniform even if only to have a glass of water or soft drink
• Smoking, chewing gum, the use of mobile phones and other entertainment gadgets whilst in uniform, are also not permitted under any circumstances
• Eating or drinking in public are not permitted except in coffee shops or restaurants of crew layover hotel or airport. Changing into civilian clothes at the technical building or at any airport is strictly prohibited
• Female cabin crew using non-QA transport except taxi or limousine service vehicles, whether in uniform or not, may not be dropped off at or picked up from any Qatar Airways official premises, by a male other than her father, brother or husband
The ITF has published chapter and verse listing the airline’s offences. These are so serious that, jointly with the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation), we have submitted a case against the state of Qatar to the International Labour Organization. This sets out a clear cut pattern of, in particular, gender discrimination. These are some summarised extracts from our representation to the ILO:
Female cabin crew members at the Company face direct and indirect gender-based discriminatory policies and practices. From a contractual marriage bar for the first five years of service to a provision allowing the company to terminate employment upon a crew member reporting their pregnancy, the Company makes some extreme demands of its female crew. The Company also has an unenviable reputation for severe employment practices even amongst industry professionals.
In September 2013, the ITF presented a paper to the 38th Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on Qatar’s flagrant abuses of aviation workers’ labour rights. Following widespread media coverage of the story , serving and former cabin crew contacted the ITF with their harrowing stories of discrimination at the Company.
The below examples of discriminatory practices have been collated from these crew accounts and official Company documentation:
I. Pregnancy and Maternity Related Dismissals
All Company contracts for female cabin crew sighted by the ITF contain the following clause:
“The employee shall notify the employer in case of pregnancy from the date of her knowledge or its occurrence. The employer shall have the right to terminate the contract of employment from the date of notification of the pregnancy. Failure of employee to notify the employer or the concealment of the occurrence shall be considered a breach of contract.”
The upshot of the above stipulation is that the Company reserves an unequivocal right to dismiss female cabin crew members on the grounds of pregnancy. At least one serving and two former crew members have confirmed to the ITF that the Company has exercised this right on many occasions. Others reported to the ITF that they were compelled to resign from the Company upon knowledge of their pregnancy as they did not want to face the humiliation of being dismissed and/or be denied repatriation assistance by the Company.
Another provision found in all Company cabin crew employment contracts is the following:
“You are required to obtain prior permission from the company, in case you wish to change your marital status and get married.”
While the scope of the above clause is self-explanatory, it is understood from crew accounts received by the ITF that there is also a full-fledged marriage bar for the first three to five years of service with the Company. Following this period, the Company can grant permission for a crew member to get married at its discretion with a negative response invariably resulting in the employee having to resign in order to get married.
Demeaning Treatment of Female Crew, Harassment and Surveillance
Other than the alleged comments made regarding the public perception of female cabin crew, a Qatar Airways pilot interviewed by the Swedish newspaper Expressen has stated how the CEO tries to keep female crew members from mixing with male pilots by making remarks such as: “the pilots are my chauffeurs, they only come to you to fuck you”.
Several former crew members have highlighted disciplinary measure including dismissal being taken against female staff for posting pictures of themselves in bathing suits and/or exposing tattoos on their personal Facebook pages. Another female crew member was dismissed after management received a report that she had “kissed a man at a Doha nightclub”.
The more important obstacle as highlighted by almost all the crew members that contacted the ITF is fear of retaliation by the Company, termination and eventual deportation from Qatar. As indicated by the ITUC in its representation to the ILO regarding Qatar’s violations of Convention 29 on Forced Labour, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee issued a report in June 2011 which found that “in most cases, if not all, the workers usually do not submit any complaints to the concerned authorities (police, the Department of Labour, the National Commission for Human Rights...etc.) for fear of losing their jobs or expulsion or deportation from the country. This is indeed the case for foreign aviation workers as it is for migrant workers in other sectors.
ITF press releases (most recent first)