Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Row Brews Over Bid to Move UN Air Freight and Passenger Authority

Qatar Offer to Host and Finance ICAO Meets with Hostility
Shipping News Feature

QATAR - CANADA – WORLDWIDE – Following representations made last week by the Qatari government to have the headquarters of the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) moved permanently to Doha from Montreal where it has existed since its inception almost seventy years ago objections have been raised both in Canada and abroad. With the lease up on the current headquarters in 2016 and the Qatari offer to both build a brand new facility to house the organisation and fund its activities, many are taking the bid seriously. The ICAO is a dedicated United Nations agency whose responsibility covers all aspects of civil aviation, including the carriage of freight by air.

According to reports the Qatari’s complained that not only was Canada too far removed from the world’s key air freight and passenger routes but that the Canadians levied taxes at an unacceptable rate and made it problematic for delegates to obtain visa’s easily. The loss of ICAO HQ has come as a surprise to local officials who view it as a major potential embarrassment and with a vote due at the ICAO General Assembly in Montreal which ends on October 4 there will doubtless be some major lobbying to win the votes of the 191 member states.

Opposition elsewhere has been scathing with transport and other union representatives particularly cutting in their comments. International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) president Paddy Crumlin, not a man to mince words said:

“Emerging out the poisonous cloud of allegations of corruption and vote buying surrounding the World Cup decision, this could almost be an April Fool’s Day joke. Can the Qatari government really expect to transplant a vital United Nations organisation and its staff to a nation that is a byword for democratic deficit? The UN cannot bend to the power of the Riyal at a time when ordinary Qataris’ fights for rights are met with massive repression. It’s doubly outrageous when thousands of staff at Qatar Airways are denied the fundamental right to union membership enshrined by the UN.”

ITF general secretary David Cockroft was equally vehement in his criticism, saying:

“This defies belief. ICAO is the lead body for civil aviation across the world. How can an organisation that has to defend the rights and safety of workers and passengers be moved to a state whose citizens’ pleas for democracy are answered with batons and buckshot?”

The ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) already serious critics of the regime in Qatar and campaigning actively to have the World Cup ballot revised also voiced its outrage. ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow commented:

 “The people who work for the ICAO need to know that they would be moving to a rights-free zone where the fundamental standards of the International Labour Organization, a sister body of the ICAO, simply don’t apply. No foreign employee, whether a cleaner or a football star, is allowed to quit Qatar unless their employer allows them to.”

Photo: The ITUC campaign against what it describes as forced labour in Qatar continues.