Injustice – plane and simple


The International Trade Union Confederation’s recent work to expose labour conditions in Qatar has brought the shocking abuses taking place there to the attention of a world audience.

But alongside that global story is another one – that of the autocratic and indefensible treatment of workers at the country’s national airline.

Qatar Airways is one of the fastest growing airlines in the world.

Its success is largely thanks to a workforce that is over 90 per cent non-Qatari – or pretty much 100 per cent if you’re looking at the people working on the aircrafts.

Profitable, successful and, as of 30 October, the latest member of the prestigious oneworld airline alliance, Qatar Airways (QA) is – according to those who work for it – also one of the most repressive and unpleasant airlines to work for in the world.

Last month, we were able to reveal how female QA staff have to sign away their right to get married for five years – and even after that they have to ask for permission to marry.

Meanwhile becoming pregnant is punishable by termination of contract.

In the 21st century such restrictions are totally unacceptable. Raising a family is a cherished goal for many working people, wherever they live.

Moreover, pregnancy and maternity are an especially vulnerable time for working women and their families.


Workers’ voices

As if those rules weren’t bad enough, our revelations exposed many more abuses.

We were quickly and privately contacted by several current and former QA staff who revealed more violations of labour and human rights by the airline.

Below is an example of just one of the messages we received (the author remains anonymous as we are committed to protecting the identities of all those who contacted us, despite the risk of legal action and immediate sacking):

“I am communicating with you to first of all thank you for the press release regarding the violation of aviation workers rights specifically for Qatar Airways.

I am one of their flight attendants and was surprised to see this in the media since nobody seemed to care about the bad treatment flight attendants in Qatar Airways receive. If you ask any of the cabin crew nobody is really happy. Most of them stay for a short period of time or get sacked.

Those who stay longer really need a job to support their families back home (the flight attendants are 100% foreigners – there’s no Qatari crew at all).

All the cabin crew live in company accommodation and cannot move out. There are cameras in every building and security guards watching everything you do.

There’s a housing department and they randomly do spot-checks 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. People get sacked daily for many stupid reasons such as posting pictures in uniform from a flight or your accommodation, having tattoos, posting pictures on your Facebook with drinks, cigarettes.

I know several girls who got fired for having pictures in bikinis while at the beach, and for many other 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 two years with the company you have to pay a bond which many cannot afford.

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 months with no salary waiting for clearance by the airline.”

How does Qatar Airways get away with it? By imposing lifelong confidentiality rules on all its workers for a start.

And by being based in Qatar, of course, where – despite being a member of the ILO – there is no protection for workers.

This is utterly contrary to the principle of freedom of association, which is enshrined in the ILO Constitution (1919), the ILO Declaration of Philadelphia (1944), and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998). It is a basic right also proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

What can be done about this? The ITF and its unions are fighting back. The recent negative publicity has damaged the airline’s brand.

ITF aviation unions are now approaching the chief executives of the airlines in which they work to ask how QA can be allowed to enter the oneworld alliance without having to respect workers’ rights.

They also believe it is time the airline dismissed its CEO, Akbar Al-Bakr, who infamously blamed unions for the world economic crisis earlier this year.


Arab World unions lead the way

The behaviour of Qatar Airways – and the similar policies of Emirates and Etihad Airways – are being challenged both locally and globally. ITF Arab World representative Bilal Malkawi explained: “The push for action on these airlines came direct from unions in the Middle East, who initiated this campaign at the ITF’s Arab World regional conference. These unions and their members have a burning desire to see QA respect workers’ rights.

“They have nothing against the company – they are happy to see it succeed, so long as that success is fair, just and shared with the workers who created it. With QA joining oneworld it is time for the airline and all those behind it to redress the major deficit in common humanity that its treatment of its workers represents."

The campaigning work that trade unions have done on Qatar has put the country on notice that it has to act to end the punitive labour conditions it forces on expatriate workers. From airplanes to building sites to football stadiums – it has to change. And that change will only be guaranteed by the right to join, and be protected by, a trade union.

Until that right is open to all and respected and upheld by the Qatari government and employers, then neither the ITF nor the ITUC will stop shaming Qatar and demanding that it faces up to its national and international obligations.


If you are a serving or ex-QA member of staff and would like to talk to us at the ITF please email