Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pakistani Supreme Court backs older cabin crew

Earlier this month, the Pakistani Supreme Court told Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to recall 73 women cabin crew who had been suspended "on the grounds that they needed to lose weight and improve their English language skills."

According to an article in the Pakistani publication The Daily Times, six women cabin crew had asked the Court to intervene after PIA management forced them to retire because of their “dull and poor appearance, scars on the face, gap in front teeth and the age factor affecting their looks.” The women asked the chief justice to direct the airlines to renounce the “insulting remarks” and recall them to their duties.

Apparently Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry agreed with the women that their dismissal constituted discrimination. He said that their services should not be terminated for the reasons mentioned in the notices. Chief Justice Chaudhry directed PIA Chairman Tariq Kirmani to explain the “derogatory and insulting” treatment of the women staff by the corporation.

This case exemplifies the kind of age discrimination faced by cabin crew in many places, when airline managements seek to actively recruit younger (and thinner) flight attendants while looking for ways to nudge out older crew. But let's not forget that age and appearance are not the only reasons why this happens. There also is an important economic factor for the airlines. Simply put, the younger, less experienced crew can be paid less.

This surely was an underlying factor in the PIA case. The women's suit noted that PIA was hiring women from Japan, Thailand, Kenya, Russia and Greece in their place, and paying them a fraction of the salary the older crew earned before they were forced to retire.

Lesson: One way or another, it's always about money!