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American flight attendants union tells Nicole Kidman not to endorse Etihad

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

The American Airlines flight attendants union wants actress Nicole Kidman to stop endorsing Etihad Airways.

In an open letter to the actress, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union president Laura Glading said Kidman’s ad campaign with Etihad goes against the actress’ work to advance women‘s rights.

“The United Arab Emirates and their airlines are well-known in our industry for their discriminatory labor practices and deplorable treatment of female employees,” Glading wrote. “Therefore, the APFA must respectfully ask that you – as a leading advocate for women around the globe – not lend your voice, your image, and your good name to Etihad Airways, the second- largest airline in the UAE.”

The APFA says Etihad’s labor policies are abusive as female flight attendants may be fired for becoming pregnant and are forced to live in “confinement.” Kidman, who is a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, should not be involved in their advertising campaign, the union says.

UPDATE: Etihad responded to the APFA allegations, saying it is committed to the safety and well-being of all its crewmembers.

“Our crew are entitled to the full scope of benefits in line with UAE laws, but we choose to go further,” said the Abu Dhabi-based airline. “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 also refuted claims that it fires flight attendants who become pregnant. The airline said flight attendants are given ground duties when they are pregnant and are fully compensated during that time and are then able to return to their flying role after their maternity leave if they have been with the airline for more than one year.

“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,” the airline said.

Here is the full letter from Glading and Etihad’s statement.

APFA letter

Dear Ms. Kidman,

The 25,000 members of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants greatly admire and appreciate your efforts to advance women’s rights around the world as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Using your profile and stature for such a noble endeavor is commendable. However, we believe those efforts are at odds with your prominent role in an advertising campaign for Etihad Airways. The United Arab Emirates and their airlines are well-known in our industry for their discriminatory labor practices and deplorable treatment of female employees. Therefore, the APFA must respectfully ask that you – as a leading advocate for women around the globe – not lend your voice, your image, and your good name to Etihad Airways, the second- largest airline in the UAE.

Last month, on March 8, International Women’s Day, you said, “I envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights... Now is the time to step it up!” Later that very same week, we saw that you had begun appearing in a new campaign for Etihad, a company that the Wall Street Journal has publicly reported “may fire women if they become pregnant” and forces flight attendants to live in “confinement” in secure compounds. These are the types of conditions that APFA fought to eradicate decades ago in the United States. Indeed, Etihad is a regressive company that seeks to return our industry to its darkest ages.

Sadly, Etihad’s abhorrent labor policies are hardly surprising when one considers the fact that the airline is wholly owned by the UAE, a country where the only thing that is being “stepped up” for women and girls is the level of abuse: According to a recent article by Business Insider, “the UAE is a country where husbands are permitted to beat their wives. There is no legal recourse for marital rape, and the UAE has imprisoned victims who report rape to authorities – including Western tourists.” And Human Rights Watch says in its latest World Report, “The penal code gives men the legal right to discipline their wives and children, including through the use of physical violence,” noting that the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court has even upheld a man’s “right to ‘chastise’ his wife and children with physical abuse.”

When you were deservedly honored by Variety magazine in October 2013 for your work to advance women’s and girls’ rights, you asked us all to, “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. Each of us has a role to play to make that happen. Play your part.”

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 APFA – a union that represents 25,000 flight attendants, including nearly 19,000 female crewmembers – has long been a leading voice on the issue of discriminatory labor practices in our industry. We would gladly welcome your voice to our effort.

Sincerely,

Laura Glading

Etihad Airways statement

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’s 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.

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