Australian actress Nicole Kidman is copping major criticism for her new venture as the face of Etihad Airways.
Kidman’s deal with Etihad was announced in mid-March. She provides the face and narrative for Etihad Airways’ new ‘Flying Reimagined’ brand campaign.
Now, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) has issued a signed petition and open letter to Kidman, drawing attention to what it calls discriminatory labour practices at Etihad.
APFA is the largest independent flight attendant union in the US, representing about 25,000 flight attendants at American Airlines.
APFA points out that Kidman serves as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador advocating for the rights of women around the globe.
It implores Kidman: “We urge you, on behalf of the women and girls that you spoke of so eloquently, not to play a part in promoting Etihad Airways, a company that imposes abusive labor practices on its female employees and whose sole owner is a government that stands against the very world that you imagine.”
The Washington Post has claimed that several Gulf airlines including Etihad are known for mistreating staff, especially female employees, with restrictive practices such as making them resign if they become pregnant.
Etihad is owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) “a Muslim nation where both Sharia Law and Civil Law (which includes a number of Sharia principles) are used, in critics’ view, to discriminate against women in many significant ways,” Forbes magazine notes.
“For example, female residents of the UAE cannot marry without the written approval of a male guardian,” the influential US financial magazine notes.
Forbes points out that APFA membership is 76% female. But the magazine also wonders whether the union’s outrage is in any way connected to the current stoush pitting America’s three largest airlines (American, Delta and United) against three fast-growing, aggressive carriers based in the Persian Gulf region (Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways).
In the open letter on the APFA website, APFA leaders quote Kidman herself has having said: “Imagine a world free from violence against women and girls; a world where equality and respect and justice are not just ideals, or possible for only a few women and girls, but the norm for all of us.”
Kidman has so far remained silent, Forbes reports.
That’s probably because she recognises now that she “foolishly has placed herself in the middle of the growing cultural war between Western ideas of feminism and equal rights on the one side, and the restrictive practices of more fundamentalist brands of Islam on the other,” the magazine comments.
An Etihad Airways spokesperson issued the following statement on the matter:
Etihad Airways is one of the world’s most popular new employers of the 21st century. We strive to attract the top talent in the industry and it is working. Last year, we were inundated with requests from people for the opportunities Etihad Airways offers – with more than 260,000 who applied to join the airline from all over the world – 57 times more applications than we had total job openings which included 1,700 crew position and approximately 500 pilot openings. In 2014, Etihad Airways was named “Employer of the Year” at the Middle East HR Awards and was ranked as one of the “Global 100” most in-demand employers by LinkedIn. In a recent independent, externally-managed employee opinion survey, 93% of our people said they are proud to work at Etihad Airways and the overall employee engagement score of 76% was 18% better than that of the global average. These numbers and awards speak to our record as a desirable and responsible employer. We invite and welcome members of APFA to visit our operations and meet our employees so they can experience firsthand the Etihad Airways workplace and culture.
Our commitment to the welfare, safety, and well-being of the diverse group of men and women who have worked so hard to make Etihad Airways great is one of our airline’s top priorities. That commitment to our employees extends beyond our world class salaries and benefits. Our crew are entitled to the full scope of benefits in line with UAE laws, but we choose to go further. Etihad provides many benefits that exceed those requirements significantly, such as housing allowances, comprehensive medical insurance, education expenses, company-wide performance bonuses, robust HR practices, career advancement opportunities, global flight benefits, emergency services, childcare services, and a generous leave policy. In addition, Etihad’s base in the UAE provides a tax-free environment to its employees.
Etihad fully supports its cabin crew during and after their pregnancy. When a cabin crew member informs Etihad of a pregnancy, she is provided with appropriate ground duties for the duration of their pregnancy. During this time, she remains fully compensated and fully engaged on the ground. Cabin crew are also entitled to paid maternity leave if they have completed more than one year’s service. Our cabin crew are then able to return to their flying role at the end of their maternity leave period. The health and safety of our cabin crew remains paramount. Therefore, we follow the GCAA requirement that crew do not continue to fly while pregnant.
Etihad Airways is focused on being best in class and delivering a superior experience for our customers. Across our network, Etihad Airways currently employs some 24,000 staff from more than 140 different nationalities in roles ranging from pilots and crew to core staff at its Head Office and stations around the world. As an equal opportunity employer, we are extremely proud of this diversity. We have industry-leading training and performance standards for our pilots and crew, many of whom have come from legacy, unionized airlines in the U.S. and the European Union. For example, when United Airlines furloughed pilots during bankruptcy, we brought them on board at Etihad. We are not bound by seniority but rather place our pilots based on merits and performance. United captains became Etihad captains. This could not have happened in a unionized airline. When United ended its furlough, the pilots were free to return to their former employer if they so desired.
The airline industry is a symbol of human ingenuity and of determination to make the world a better place by connecting cultures, families and businesses. As a truly global airline, Etihad Airways represents the very best of that vision. At Etihad Airways, we have become a global, award-winning employer because we value our employees and we treat them with dignity and respect. As a result, they give us their very best; the same employee survey confirmed this when 92% of employees responded that they were willing to go beyond normal requirements in order to help Etihad succeed. This sort of employee motivation doesn’t just happen; it is a result of a very structured and deliberate strategy by Etihad as an employer genuinely committed to looking after its people. It is very clear that without Open Skies, our employees and consumers would have few choices but those airlines in the oligopoly of immunized alliances that dominate the global industry and seek to reduce the competitive landscape.
Written by : Peter Needham