TWU national secretary Michael Kaine has spoken out against “despicable” labour practices at Qatar Airways as the debate continues over whether the carrier should be allowed extra flights.
Speaking before the Senate Select Committee on Commonwealth Bilateral Air Service Agreements on Tuesday, Kaine described “issues at Qatar that are well known, both in Australia and internationally”, particularly around female and LGBTQ+ workers.
“Back in 2015, the ILO found Qatar guilty of allowing its airline, Qatar Airways, to violate international and national agreements and to institutionalise discrimination, including contracts that allowed it to automatically terminate the employment of women cabin crew who became pregnant and to prohibit women from being dropped off or picked up from the company premises by a man that was not their father, their brother or their husband,” he said.
“Since then, the contracts have been changed, but the workers are saying that they’re still being discriminated against, and the reports that come through are of discrimination against gay workers and female workers.
“Female workers have to ask permission to get married, and we know of at least one case where a worker was terminated shortly after making this request; that person now works for Jetstar. Female workers are only allowed, as I said, to be picked up and dropped off by their male family. There’s a curfew of 10pm for visits from people of the opposite gender.
“It’s despicable, really, the labour practices that have existed at Qatar for a long period of time.”
In response to the ILO’s 2015 report, Qatar Airways said in a statement that reports it had been “found guilty” of sexual discrimination and that it was “in breach of international labour laws” were incorrect.
“QR is not itself a party to the ILO proceedings and has no status in them. No part of the proceedings has alleged that QR is in breach of international law,” the carrier said.
“A proper reading of the Committee Report makes clear that the ILO committee that was tasked with investigating the position actually determined that the allegations of discrimination made by the [unions] were, for the most part, unfounded. In particular, for example, the Committee Report does not uphold the allegation that QR’s policy on marital status or the airline’s policy on adequate rest periods are discriminatory.”
While he says the policies have changed in writing, Kaine described “discreet and underhanded” continued use of the old policies by managers, pointing out an alleged incident during COVID-19 where a mother was forced to return to accommodation to nurse her newborn.
“We know workers are still being monitored on social media, for example, and being asked to explain themselves,” he said.
“So it is a real problem, and of course we know that it’s difficult to see a circumstance where this can be overcome because unions are still prohibited in Qatar, and, although the government’s approved a sort of voluntary joint committee system, Qatar Airways has refused to establish one.
“So, yes, there are very, very difficult and very disturbing practices at Qatar.”
Transport Minister Catherine King has said there is no single reason for the decision to block an expansion of Qatar’s air rights but maintains it was “not in the national interest” to allow extra flights.