ILO finds Qatar guilty
Geneva-based United Nations agency the ILO (International Labour Organization) today found Qatar guilty of allowing its state-owned airline, Qatar Airways, to violate international and national agreements and institutionalise discrimination. The case was successfully brought against Qatar by the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) and the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) (see http://goo.gl/Ka5inH.)
In a dramatic judgment – which can be seen at http://goo.gl/gQnmZf – the ILO has found that:
Qatar Airways (QR) is guilty of systemic workplace sex discrimination, including in its past and current work contracts, which allow it to automatically terminate the employment of women cabin crew who become pregnant, as well as in its prohibition on women being dropped off/picked up at/from company premises by a man other than their father, brother or husband.
The Qatari government has breached its international obligations by turning a blind eye to these offences. By allowing QR to behave in this way Qatar has violated ILO Convention 111 on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), which Qatar signed in 1976;
The ILO Tripartite Committee also noted that the contractual bar on employees marrying in the first five years of service – after which they could only marry with company permission – has now been removed from the airline’s contracts, and ‘expresses the firm hope that the Government takes the necessary measures without delay to ensure that all cabin crew members are transferred under the new employment contract so as to be able to get married and change their marital status without the company’s permission’.
It also goes on to state that: ‘the Committee considers that particular attention should be given by the Government so as to encourage the company to provide its employees, including foreign employees, with appropriate complaint mechanisms to ensure that they can obtain redress without being exposed to stigmatisation or reprisals, and without the fear of being deported from the country, in cases of harassment or any other discriminatory behaviours based on the grounds set out in the Convention.’
It also noted, ‘the Government’s reply that various dispute settlement mechanisms are in place to handle complaints of migrant workers … the Government did not provide information on how these procedures can be or have been used by cabin crew, in particular women. The Committee observes that access to such procedures and remedies by cabin crew members, who are migrant workers, may be difficult because of the fear of victimization or reprisals, including dismissal and deportation from the country … given the large number of women in cabin crew staff, the appointment of trained women labour inspectors may be a positive measure’.
For two years the ITF has exposed discrimination and repressive practices at QR, including arbitrary dismissal, surveillance and curfews (see http://goo.gl/MzKq0Y) . Meanwhile the ITUC has challenged Qatar over the appalling treatment of migrant workers there.
ITF president Paddy Crumlin commented: “This decision is a game changer. A year ago we put Qatar and Qatar Airways in the dock and today it has been proved that we were right to do so. Everything has to change now. QR can no longer deny and evade. The changes made to the rules for staff failed to fool the ILO. Now the airline must make them for real. It’s time to make QR free from fear.
“Ever since we made those rules public we’ve made clear that they had to go. By revealing them we unleashed a torrent of stories of what it is like to work there. We congratulate all those, including those who bravely and secretly spoke to us from inside the airline, those in trade unions, in the wider aviation industry and in the media, who helped us decry these abuses.”
Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, commented: “The attempts to tinker with the rules on pregnancy and marriage made once we brought this case show that Qatar Airways has been shamed into action – and more must come. We, along with everyone who works for the airline, will not rest until it addresses what many of those workers call the ‘climate of fear’ at QR.”
She continued: “The gaze of world opinion is locked on the behaviour of the Qatari government – over Qatar Airways, over its abhorrent treatment of migrant workers, and over the World Cup. In Geneva today Qatar has been proved wanting. We have shown that money doesn’t buy silence. The nation is on trial. It cannot evade its responsibilities. It has to begin to do the right thing.”
The ITF’s exposure of practices at Qatar Airways sparked criticism worldwide, including this protest at the recent Scotland vs Qatar football match. (Credit: Richie Vietch)
The following is a one third length summary of the ITF and ITUC case presented last year to the ILO which resulted in today’s decision:
A summary of the Representation against the Government of Qatar Concerning Violations of Convention 111 submitted by the ITF and ITUC to the ILO ILC on 5 June 2014
Following the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association’s (http://goo.gl/OJDhtw) recent recommendations regarding the government of Qatar’s restrictions on the right of workers to unionise, strike and bargain collectively, and the strong criticisms contained in its report concerning the GoQ’s breaches of ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labour, the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the International Trade Union Confederation wish to bring to the ILO’s attention the restriction of women’s rights and workplace discrimination at Qatar’s national air carrier, Qatar Airways.
The ITF/ITUC complaint states that 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.
The complaint goes on to state that the GoQ both fails to maintain a legal framework sufficient to protect the rights of female workers consistent with international law and to enforce the legal protections that currently do exist. The relevant laws governing discrimination in the workplace and protection from harassment are contained in the Constitution of Qatar, Law 14 of 2004 (the Labour Law) and Law 11 of 2004 (the Penal Code). The Constitution unequivocally states that “all persons are equal before the law and that there shall be no discrimination whatsoever on grounds of sex, race, language, or religion”.
Amnesty International has reported that women in Qatar continue to face discrimination in law and practice and are still inadequately protected. Among others, the US State Department has also noted that female employees reporting sexual harassment have occasionally been deported. These discriminatory practices persist despite the GOQ acceding to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) without reservations in 2009.
The Complainants jointly file this representation under Article 24 of the ILO Constitution. They contend that the GoQ is in serious breach of its obligations under ILO Convention 111 (the Convention), which it ratified in 1976.
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.
II. Marriage Bar
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.
III. Rest Period Regulations
The Company’s current code of practice for cabin crew contains the following regulations relating to rest periods:
“Cabin Crew Management team is not here to manage your lifestyle but individual responsibility must be exercised to ensure you are well rested prior to a duty period.
Duty includes if/when you are on (SBY) standby, attending training and/or scheduled for a flight. A minimum of 12 hours of rest prior to a duty period is mandatory.
During the AB-initio training period, regardless of the following day’s rostered duty, all participants must be in company assigned accommodation by 2300 Hours every day including Fridays.
Participants are not allowed to accept visitors of the opposite sex in company assigned accommodation at anytime throughout the Ab-initio training period.
Staying overnight, outside of company assigned accommodation, regardless whether you are on duty or on day off is strictly prohibited.
For all Cabin Crew While in Base (DOH): It is mandatory for Crew members to be in company assigned accommodations 12 hours prior to pick up time. Cabin Crew are permitted to go out of company accommodation for a maximum period of 90 minutes during the mandatory rest period.
For all Cabin Crew returning from Days Off / Annual Leave:
It is mandatory for Crew members to be in company assigned accommodations 12 hours prior to reporting time.
Duty includes if/when on standby/ attending training or scheduled for a flight.
On or before Days off, you must ensure that you return to your company assigned accommodation not later than 0400H.
Staying overnight, outside of company assigned accommodation, regardless whether you are on duty or on day off is strictly prohibited.”
As can be seen from these regulations, the Company does indeed try to manage the way its cabin crew spend their rest breaks and free time despite claiming the opposite. Confinement to company premises half a day prior to a flight and restrictions where a crew member can spend the night even while off duty are just some of the measures taken by the Company to control the personal lives of its staff.
Two former crew members reported to the ITF that they noticed fire escapes and windows in Company accommodation being sealed in order to prevent crew from leaving undetected. Several crew members also stated that minor violations of these stringent regulations were the lead cause of dismissals among staff.
IV. 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 Company’s code of practice for cabin crew also contains a provision barring female staff from being dropped off or picked up from company premises by a male other than their father, brother or husband.
In addition to personal Facebook pages being monitored by management, a number of crew members reported an overbearing surveillance culture that extends from the workplace to the private sphere. A common statement made by staff is that “cameras and security guards watch everything you do”.
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.
A small sample of recent articles on Qatar Airways