As Qatar Airways begins its push to hire flight attendants in Atlanta, some are aiming to let the potential employees know what they’re in for — especially the women.
An advocacy group calling itself AWARE has taken out ads in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and on a progression of billboards near the airport along Interstate 75 accusing the airline of suppressing women’s rights and serving as the marketing arm for a state that, at the very least, turns a blind eye to the exploitation of migrant workers.
Rights groups have used the occasion of the airline’s launch in Atlanta June 1 to press their case, which is backed by articles in influential outlets like The Guardian over the last few years alleging the airline’s tight control over the physical appearances of crew members and its propensity to fire them for the smallest of reasons.
That has left some in an employment limbo, given that Qatar’s kafala sponsorship system, common in Middle Eastern countries, ties immigration status to a particular employer, making it tough for fired workers to shift jobs. Some contractors who have accrued debt in the country have found themselves unable to leave or even jailed.
Since covering the flight launch, Global Atlanta has heard a variety of criticisms: That women aren’t allowed to get pregnant while working at Qatar (changed a few years back after International Labour Organisation criticisms), that they have to ask permission to get married (it’s just a request for a change of immigration status), and that some have complained that the minutest aspects of their lives are controlled in Doha. Some say female flight attendants can’t ride to work with men who are not in their family (true, but for a reason, the airline says), while pilots have different sets of rules (not true, according to Qatar).
Qatar Airways says its flight attendants are treated well, and that their new Crew City living accommodations are like “a luxury resort,” though the airline received unwelcome media attention after an executive sent an email to cabin crew picturing a female team member collapsed drunk after being dropped off in the entryway to their living quarters. He said he was “ashamed and disturbed” by her behavior in a country where drinking alcohol is illegal for locals and where the legitimacy of reforms to labor practices are partly dependent on employee behavior.
That executive was Rossen Dimitrov, senior vice president in charge of customer experience since 2013 (who gained responsibility for cabin crew in January 2015). Global Atlanta asked Mr. Dimitrov to respond directly to concerns as it begins its hiring push here in the city. That conversation, held over a series of emails, is presented with light editing over at our Airport City site.
Global Atlanta: We know the airline doesn’t want to talk a lot about labor issues, but this is a big concern in Atlanta, where you’re soon to begin hiring and where AWARE is taking out a lot of ads against you. You mentioned to me that AWARE’s information is outdated, but no one has clarified which pieces of their information are incorrect.
Rossen Dimitrov: We welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.
The allegations made by the organization that calls itself AWARE are patently false. AWARE seems to be UNAWARE of the reality that Qatar Airways respects the laws of every country it serves, and does not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion or nationality. The airline recruits from all over the world…read the full interview on Airport City.