Qatar Airways: Expansion Plans Force The Carrier To Change Discriminatory Policies

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Qatar Airways among other ME3 carriers has a reputation for treating their staff (especially cabin crew) very borderline and imposes tight restrictions on their employees. This might change soon.

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The motivation for better treatment is in no way charitable. The gulf carrier has massive expansion plans and is working hard to retain crew members.

With media reports of discriminating staff and a less than prestigious reputation within the industry any company would find it hard to retain staff members should such accusations really prove to be true. After all, who wants to subject himself to such antics?

Before you get the impression this is going to be just another bashing of gulf carriers, it isn’t. I actually think that (as far as the product goes) Qatar Airways and their CEO Akbar Al Baker are setting milestones in the industry. I always felt well taken care of as a passenger and Hamad International Airport in Doha is fantastic.

I came across this matter while doing my daily news reads this morning. The travel industry website Skift (access here) wrote about these recent developments involving the Qatari flag carrier.

Fielding questions is Rossen Dimitrov, the senior vice president who oversees the carrier’s 9,500 flight attendants, 80 percent of whom are women, from places as far-flung as Peru and India. Affable and at times even funny, Dimitrov explains a recent relaxation of policies on marriage and pregnancy, and pledges to review the curfew and other concerns.

Qatar Air’s rapid expansion from a regional carrier into a long-haul powerhouse has brought the conservative values of its home state into conflict with Western views on women’s rights. With a fleet of planes on order that will require thousands of new cabin crew, the carrier has planned about two dozen meetings this year to explain shifting policies and better understand the needs of workers.

Dimitrov, responsible for overhauling the Qatar Air rulebook, says the changes have been driven mostly by the need to retain crew members as the carrier expands. Qatar Air will add at least 6,000 flight attendants in the next two years, to crew 320 new jets worth $70 billion it has on order.

This pretty much sounds like ‘We don’t like it but we don’t have a choice’ to be honest.

The airline has already backed off some of the more intrusive rules. Crew no longer risk being fired if they marry within their first five years of employment or become pregnant. Under new contracts introduced in December, pregnant women will now be offered temporary ground jobs, and they can get married at any time after notifying the company.

Qatar Air isn’t alone among Gulf carriers in its struggles to maintain smooth relations with crew members. Etihad Airways PJSC of Abu Dhabi has been criticized for excluding a trouser option for women when introducing its latest uniforms, though the carrier says that’s because its flight attendants didn’t want them. Dubai-based Emirates has experienced some discord among cabin crew and in February began similar meetings to hear their concerns.

This is not surprising. The muslim middle eastern countries have a very traditional and conservative view on how women (who as stated above represent 80% of the cabin crew) have to conduct themselves. This is nothing exclusive to Qatar but ALL of the countries in the region.

Qatar Air, though, has borne the brunt of the criticism. In a report released in June, the International Labor Organization said the Qatari government had allowed its flag carrier to “institutionalize discrimination.” The U.N. agency acknowledged that things are improving, but said it was waiting to see whether the relaxed rules on marriage and pregnancy are fully implemented, and questioned ongoing restrictions such as a ban on female attendants being dropped off at work by men they’re not related to.

I think conditions like these pretty much speak for themselves and there is nothing more to say about this, especially if the United Nations already getting involved.

Dimitrov insists that in its recruiting the carrier is always transparent about the cultural norms that crew members must adhere to. Qatar is a conservative place, he says, and anyone coming to work for the airline or any other company must accept and adjust to that.

“Sometimes it’s hard for people who’ve never been to this part of the world to understand,” he said. “I’m not saying bad or good, but beliefs are different and we need to accustom ourselves to the way things are.”

There is a fine line between respecting cultural norms and being constantly monitored, reglemented and looked down upon as an adult. In addition, these airlines might give you some introduction Peptalk on the day of your interview but I doubt it will be all that aggressive considering the airline really needs foreign staff. It’s one thing to hear about things during an interview at some hotel in your home country and then experience it live once you set up your household in Qatar.

Back in 2014 John wrote an article about the grotesque conditions at Qatar Airways (access here).

Conclusion

It seems like the market requirements finally caught up with Qatar and the other carriers, pushing them into changing their disgusting antics. Let’s hope these changes will be substantial to make life more livable for the employees in the region.

I personally don’t feel comfortable there and I respect every westerner, irrespective if they work for airlines, hotels or other companies who can live in these countries and the attached conditions. I try to keep every trip to the region as short as possible.

 

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