UN labor agency finds worker protections against bias lacking at Qatar Airways

A national airline in the Persian Gulf is under fire for discriminatory and restrictive aspects of its internal policy.

Qatar Airways, owned by the Qatari government, has drawn the ire of the United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO), which is looking at airline rules and regulations applying to stewardesses and other female employees.

According to June reports in Al Jazeera America, airline policies have included automatically terminating women who get pregnant. In this case, advocates for the airline cited restrictions on flight during pregnancy. However, other findings show that airline leaders have applied other special rules governing female crew members. For example, there is an alleged policy stipulation that a family member, such as a father, brother or husband, must pick up a female employee from work at the end of her shift.

In some cases, policies have been scrapped by the airline after controversy. 

Al Jazeera documented an investigation by the ILO into a contract clause requiring crew members to get permission from the company before getting married. Policymakers protested that such a rule does not discriminate toward either gender, but eventually dropped the stipulation from employment contracts.

So what is the ILO doing to monitor and combat these policies?

In response to Gulf News Journal questions last week, ILO representatives provided a document called “Follow-up to the Recommendations of the Tripartite Committee” that shows that in June 2015, the ILO’s governing body adopted the recommendations of a committee looking at discriminatory practices on the part of the airline and its government owner. The committee of experts found that the government has not correctly responded to requests from the governing body, which has condemned aspects of Qatar’s Constitution and its labor law.

“Both (the constitution and the labor law) fall short of effectively prohibiting discrimination … particularly those of political opinion, national extraction and social origin, and only protect against discrimination in certain aspects of employment,” the report said

The report also notes that several categories of workers are excluded from Qatar’s 2004 labor law, including domestic workers. As for gender discrepancies, the report cited male workforce participation at 64.7 percent and female participation at 35.3 percent.

The ILO report also critiques a suggestion by the Qatari government that a lack of known complaints from laborers represents labor compliance, citing the plight of migrant workers.

“Where no cases or complaints, or very few, are being lodged, this is likely to indicate a lack of an appropriate legal framework, a lack of awareness of rights, a lack of confidence in or absence of practical access to procedures, or fear of reprisals.” the ILO report said. “The fear of reprisals or victimization is a particular concern in the case of migrant workers. The lack of complaints or cases could also indicate that the system of recording violations is insufficiently developed.”

Much of the report revolves around requests for more information on Qatari promises to implement programs for transparency and anti-discrimination and calls for Qatar to submit information to human rights organizations, citing a continued absence of a clear legislative framework addressing protection against discrimination.

Human rights groups around the world continue to monitor the situation, hoping that Qatar’s government will take more concrete steps to provide fairness and respect for all workers.


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