Qatar’s Staff Criticisms – 3 questions

Is it acceptable to have your employer grant permission “in case you wish to change your marital status and get married“?

This employee rule made the news, this week,  in an article The truth about the luxury of Qatar Airways published last week in a Swedish tabloid: Expressen. The article is  blisteringly critical of the airline.

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2009  (Photo credit: Wikipedia

Qatar Airways has been voted world!s best airline for two years in a row. They pick up awards for business class, their service and their lounges. On top of that, the airline had been involved in massive expansion going from four to 120 aircraft to in sixteen years. To do this requires discipline and determination.

The impact of this discipline and determination on the staff, particularly female staff,  was clearly outlined in the published article. The information shared was based on the experiences of three anonymous ex employees of the airline – two flight attendants and one pilot. It’s author Johanna Karlsson claimed it also included input from current employees who are unable to speak out about the airline because of a detailed Non Disclosure Agreement they sign which requires them to not discuss the company, share their views on Facebook or show images of them in their uniforms. This confidentiality agreement stays in effect even after they have left the company.

Staff are also not allowed to side with a passenger in any dispute with the airline.

The image painted of a  employee is of a virtual slave: Once employed by Qatar Airways, cabin crew must exclusively dedicate their time towards the fulfillment of their job function The airline, it is claimed, controls your leisure time, your relationships, your employment visa, your access to flights home, what you eat and how you think. The aforementioned contract require you to stay single for five years, and if you become pregnant, you must inform the company immediately.

The CEO of the airline Al Baker, it was stated by Expressen, invites female staff to his hotel rooms, give selected women gifts and texts flight attendants from his private phone. Any refusal can result in being sacked. In addition, it is claimed that the airline can fire staff for:

  • wanting to change room mates
  • posting an inappropriate Facebook status
  • getting a tattoo
  • returning to their housing even five minutes after curfew
  • a woman letting a man that they know who is neither their husband or father give them a lift to work
  • smoking a cigarette during their time off.

The result, it is claimed is that staff begin to feel that they are “so stupid I can’t even do this job without getting into trouble.” 

Akbar-Al-Baker

The article follows claims made in 2013 by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) which slammed Qatar Airways for their hiring contracts: “The labour relations at Qatar Airways are a running sore on the face of the global aviation industry. Autocratic, overbearing and near-dictatorial, this airline gains control and competitive advantage by ignoring International Labour Organization conventions on worker rights. Its treatment of its employees borders on the appalling.”

Of the allegations, the airline’s public relations company in Sweden said: “Qatar Airways is unable to comment on your specific questions. To do this, we must be able to find out more facts, which is impossible if we do not know which employees or former employees are making these statements,”.

The CEO of Qatar Airways has dismissed the claims:  “throwing stones for no reason at all“.

I wonder if some of the rules are linked to Qatar culture? For example, men from Qatar have to get permission from the government to marry a foreigner. Are the Qatar conditions any worse than Ryanair which makes staff by a uniform or some of the US regional carriers that pay staff less than what they could earn driving a bus? Or are they indeed an airline employing people in an “appalling manner:?

Either way, Qatar Airways cannot afford to have a negative image regarding its treatment of staff. If the public get wind of it, they may abandon the carrier. Likewise, while Qatar Airways has a line of people interested in working for them, this that pool may dry up? 

Three questions:

  1. Can the allegations made by Expressen be substantiated?
  2. Are the conditions extreme or is it the price staff pay to work for the world’s most successful airline?
  3. If you knew the treatment staff of an airline was “appalling”, would you still fly the airline?

 

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  1. “World’s best service…” of not, I just cannot see flying Qatar… I too have read a couple of articles on the subject in recent weeks and, assuming the majority of the reports to be true, could not support such an airline. It is just fine for Qatar to honor their own cultural traditions – within their borders and among their own citizens, but to impose them on ‘Guest Workers’ is beyond my understanding. One asks why this is necessary. Not specifically mentioned in the material that I’ve read is that for cultural reasons, Qatar (and some others) refuse to employ their own (female) national as cabin crew. In addition, having to request permission to leave the country, being forced to live in a company dorm and under curfew is horrible. I am surprised that so many Western Europeans (and even a few Americans) will but up with it. And lastly, (I’m only guessing here), like Saudi and a few others, I suspect that Qatar is a dry airline. While I personally do not consume alcohol, its is an expected part of the service on all but a handful of airlines.
    If this male treated ‘my female’ with such utter contempt and imposed such second of third class status, an otherwise wonderful relationship would be over in 48 hours, probably with me in the morgue. Al Baker and his forty thieves won’t see a dime of my money. Ever.

  2. They were on my list of airlines I most wanted to fly. No longer. I don’t patronize companies that treat their people like slaves.

  3. @Martin, thanks for the clarification. I was not sure. That said, if those overall working conditions are true – and I suspect that most are, the staff probably needs the booze a lot more than do the PAX. Thanks for adding to our knowledge.

  4. Treatment of the customers isn’t that great either – I’ve been routinely disappointed in their service. Having lived in the GCC for 5+ years, Emirates and Etihad are far superior airlines to fly with. Now that we’re back in the Emirates, my husband and I have been trying to dump our QA miles and never use them again.

    I’ve known both QA and EK cabin crew (as well as an EK captain) and while there were bonus issues with EK awhile back, I don’t think it compares to the across the board horror stories I’ve heard with QA.

    TL:DR – now that I have options, I will choose not to fly QA.

  5. Nice to hear that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Even Emirates has major issues, including employing only ‘foreign’ women, but they are large enough that I have to believe that they are at least trying… OTOH, All Baker and Qatar show no signs of caring about these issues, one way or another, perhaps beyond some idea of ‘ownership.’ When a foreign employer claims to ‘own’ a non-citizen (female) employee, I am concerned. Permission to leave the country on other than company business? Forbidden to meet or entertain male guests in private living space? Mandatory residence in company provided housing? Substantial sums of ‘earned’ wages withheld if leaving the country on personal business, said sums simply lost if employee (salve) does not return, Denied the right to marry, terminated (or worse!!) of discovered pregnant and loss of already earned wages? I don’t think so! No woman should have to tolerate that crap, let alone the ‘special invitations and gifts’ from Al Baker. I too can read between the lines and I have a good idea about what old Al has on his mind. It is darn sure not improved cabin safety! No bucks for QA, ever. My one visit to Qatar was more than enough and I’ll never return. Even in the 21st century, those thugs are far worse than any of slavery games that America played in the 18th and 19th centuries. No, no and NO!

  6. @TOM: Thanks for sharing some of my feelings. As noted elsewhere, I rode with QA once, before I understood how horribly they treat their working staff, especially non-Qatari women. Never again. IMO, All Baker, the businessman that can switch cultures and costumes as will, ought be have his tiny testosterone factories extracted. Good business is good business, but good business never includes exploiting women, citizens or otherwise. If I were a female FA for QA, I’d pack my few treasures in place of that spare uniform, grab what cash I could and jump ship at the first foreign port that included a friendly embassy. Something must be done about this thug. I do not know what – that is not my expertise. One way or another, he and his airline must be curbed. Blog posts and comments are a great place to begin. The world’s women do NOT have to tolerate this crap and I wonder why so many do. Especially those with a year or more experience… THey already have the skills to easily be employed by any major airline, home country or otherwise. Grrr.

  7. In general, Qatar is a corrupt country with institutionalized slavery.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/24/qatar-2022-world-cup-185-nepalese-workers-died-2013

    The above isn’t airline-related but it speaks to a culture of brutality and disregard for human life.

    They hired their own lobbying firm to study their treatment of foreign workers:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/qatar/10468716/Qatar-accused-of-fudging-independent-inquiry-into-migrant-World-Cup-workers.html

    The airline is simply fruit of the same tree. I will never fly Qatar, and nor will I allow my direct reports to fly them. Emirates and Etihad are still question marks to me, thought I’ve flown Emirates before.

    The CEO is, frankly, disgusting, and he’s a hypocrite to boot. “Nobody touch the ladies, ladies are whores!” and then he turns them into exactly that when he wishes. Sexist amoral pig.

  8. As a former employee of Qatar Airways I can say with a high degree of accuracy the Swiss newspaper Expressen article is spot-on. Life under Al Baker is a nightmare. The “Chief” as he likes to be called, Akbar Al Baker does take advantage of the female crewmembers and if you don’t respond your done so pack your bags. He is a disgrace to Qatar.

    Another Qatar FA wrote a comprehensive detailed description: https://www.itfglobal.org/press-area/index.cfm/pressdetail/9707

    More can be read about living and working for QA, on the 5th of February “mnop” wrote a long, but accurate description. You’ll find it about half way down the page.

    http://www.pprune.org/middle-east/288896-joining-qatar-airways-qr-all-you-need-know-about-threads-merged-357.html

    After all this the unanswered question is why, why does Al Baker represent Qatar Airways?

  9. Having said that, many people are still dying to get a job as flight attendant there.

    Employment agreement is a mere contract- without the consent to the other parties- the contract would not be made.

    I’m not an employee of Qatar but I did apply for a flight attendant position – we all knew about this issue and had been warned.
    Some of us call Qarar Airways: “Qatar Boot Camp”.

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