Too fat to fly? Backlash against Gulf airlines’ grounding of ‘overweight’ crew

The CEO of Qatar Airways Akbar Al-Baker issued an apology after he compared the crews on his airline with the ‘grandmothers on American carriers’. (Reuters)
Updated 11 November 2017
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Too fat to fly? Backlash against Gulf airlines’ grounding of ‘overweight’ crew

LONDON: Two Gulf airlines have come under fire from grounded crew members deemed too fat to fly.
Air transport unions say weight discrimination is a problem with some airlines who regularly weigh crew members to ensure they are within closely-monitored bands.
Employees from regional carriers including Qatar Airways have confided to Arab News that they have faced being grounded or have been “humiliated” by their employers for being overweight.
A former Qatar Airways cabin member, who asked to be quoted by his first name “Martin,” said when he worked for the Doha-based airline he was sent a letter by the management asking him to lose 10 kilos.
Martin, who was 23 at the time of the reprimand, said: “I’m a big guy, yes, but I’m in proportion.” Martin is 180cm tall and at the time of receiving the letter he weighed 90 kilograms.
“I knew if I didn’t lose the weight they would ground me and it would be humiliating,” he said. “They send you the letter and then give you three months to lose the weight.”
Martin said it was “difficult” to lose weight when flying because no special diet food was provided. He said: “I lost the 10 kilograms in just one month by just eating vegetables. I was hungry all the time.”
He added that he found the management very “controlling.”
The former cabin member, who now works for Argentine Airlines, said: “It’s wrong.
In Argentina we have all sorts of bodies. Would you like someone super-young and slender to serve you, or would you like someone more experienced who can save you in the event of an accident?”
He said of Qatar Airways: “They measure your height and they tell you it’s because of aircraft requirements and about being able to reach things. Then they take your weight measurements but they are not clear about why. Why?”
Martin added: “I understand that they want you to look good but they forget that we are humans, especially when they consider the poor quality of the available food and our limited time.”
In June, the CEO of Qatar Airways Akbar Al-Baker was forced to issue an apology after he compared the crews on his airline with those of US-based carriers.
“By the way, the average age of my cabin crew is only 26 years,” he said in Dublin during a celebration of the launch of a new international route.
“So there is no need for you to travel on these crap American carriers ... You know you’re always being served by grandmothers on American carriers.”
The comment sparked outrage by labor unions representing US-based pilot and flight attendants.
Al-Baker’s comments came just two years after the Doha-based airline faced a massive backlash for its policy of firing female cabin crew for getting married or pregnant.
At the time, the airline was forced to make a U-turn and now offers pregnant women temporary ground jobs, and they can get married at any time after “notifying” the company.
In the wake of recent court cases against Aeroflot and Malaysian Airlines for alleged staff discrimination on the basis of appearance, a serving cabin member for Emirates told Arab News: “The company has a weight management system and there is a roster code for crew who are subject to this so it is fairly easy to check for this practice.”
According to documents seen by Arab News, the code “GAM” appears to denote that a member of Emirates staff has been grounded for “appearance management” reasons.
A female former cabin member who worked at Emirates from 2013-2016 confirmed to Arab News the airline regularly weighs its staff and “grounds” people for being overweight.
“People who were overweight had to work in the training college until they lost weight,” the 33-year-old told Arab News on the condition of anonymity. “I definitely felt self-conscious working at Emirates. They only hire skinny women so you are aware that you need to maintain that appearance, and also being weighed on a recurring basis is not nice.”
The disgruntled former Emirates worker, who now works for British Airways, added: “They only want young pretty girls, experience is not their priority.”
Gabriel Mocho, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) civil aviation section secretary, told Arab News that the practice of sexism, as well as appearance and weight discrimination are a “problem” in some airlines. “When it happens we will call the airline out on it,” he said.
Mocho said discriminating on the basis of a person’s weight is “wholly illegitimate.”
He said: “We tend to see it in countries where there’s little or no union presence, and where labor legislation and the culture of flight safety are weak — both on paper and in implementation. Cut-throat competition among airlines due to decades of deregulation without proper social safeguards is making the situation worse.”
Mocho said discrimination would only be justified if a person’s weight undermined their ability to perform safety-related duties, but said this is not what is happening in these cases.
The ITF secretary said: “This is discrimination. It’s an unacceptable practice. Once again it ignores the fact that cabin crew are, first and foremost, safety professionals — not ornaments for the vanity of an airline.”
A spokesperson from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) confirmed to Arab News in a statement that excess weight is not a specific safety concern.
“There is nothing specifically about weight for cabin crew in the EASA regulations,” the spokesperson said.
“Obviously crew must be able to carry out the job to the relevant safety standards required. If this isn’t possible, airlines usually work with the individual to bring them to the required standard.”
Despite disapproval of airline weight monitoring practices at the union level, not all cabin crew deem the policies to be unfair.
Narissa, who worked for Emirates until May 2017, told Arab News she supports the airline’s weight management policies.
“It’s a good initiative. People who get letters are really overweight,” she said. “You are the face of the airline. They also ... expect you to move quite fast and you can’t do that if you’re very overweight.”
However she also expressed skepticism over whether the practice was really related to safety onboard.
“They say it’s because of health reasons but really it’s because they want us to look good. All the new joiners look like they are straight off the runway.”
Qatar Airways and Emirates did not respond to requests for ­comment.


France unveils major tax cuts as growth flags

Updated 24 September 2018
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France unveils major tax cuts as growth flags

  • Critics say most people have been left behind by President Emmanuel Macron’s policies so far
  • Patience is wearing thin for many as unemployment has barely budged since Macron’s election in May 2017

PARIS: The French government on Monday unveiled billions of euros in tax relief for businesses alongside further budget cuts, as President Emmanuel Macron struggles to deliver more jobs and higher growth as promised.
The former investment banker’s poll ratings have dived in recent weeks as growth has slowed despite a series of reforms presented as unavoidable shock treatment for getting France on solid financial footing.
Critics say most people have been left behind by Macron’s policies so far, which have seen him raise taxes on retirees while cutting a wealth tax on top earners.
Pensions and welfare benefits will be shaved further in the 2019 budget — Macron complained in June that France spends “a crazy amount of dough” on social programs.
And 4,100 more public sector jobs will be axed as Macron aims for a deficit of 2.8 percent of GDP, below the 3 percent limit set for EU members.
Higher taxes on fuel and cigarettes will also hit consumers next year.
But the government says the pillar of the 2019 budget will be a combined €20 billion ($23.5 billion) of tax cuts for businesses and six billion euros in tax relief for households, including a gradual end to an annual housing tax.
“The long-term goal is to build a new French prosperity that will benefit all French people in all regions,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said as he presented the budget in Paris.
But he acknowledged that results from Macron’s reform drive so far “are unsatisfactory compared with our European neighbors, and we certainly don’t intend to stop here.”
“We’re doing less well than our European partners on unemployment, growth, the deficit and debt,” Le Maire said.
Patience is wearing thin for many as unemployment has barely budged since Macron’s election in May 2017, standing at 9.1 percent.
The 40-year-old centrist captured the presidency with a pledge to shake up an economy he says is held back by excessive regulations and rigid labor laws.
But growth has been slowing and is now widely expected to reach just 1.6 percent this year, and the government is forecasting an uptick to just 1.7 percent next year.
A poll released Sunday found just 29 percent satisfied with Macron’s leadership, while a separate survey last week said only 19 percent of French people held a positive view of his record.
He has promised to balance the budget in France for the first time in more than 40 years by the end of his term in 2022 — a task that will require an overhaul of state spending.
That has led him to take on France’s powerful labor unions to a degree not seen in decades, overcoming stiff resistance to new laws making it easier to fire people and ending the privileged status of rail workers.
He has also promised to cut 120,000 public sector jobs by the end of his term in 2022, a daunting prospect in a country known for its expansive bureaucracy which guarantees civil servants jobs for life.
Yet Macron has appeared to be dismissive of the concerns of everyday voters, most recently telling an unemployed gardener to go get a job in a restaurant or construction instead.
His reformist zeal has also exposed him to criticism that his policies favor businesses in particular, and he has struggled to shake off perceptions that he is “president of the rich.”
The vow to cut social spending is unlikely to reassure the lowest earners in France, where the number of people living below the poverty line has swelled to 14 percent of the population, according to national statistics office INSEE.