The Transport Workers’ Union is considering a boycott on working on Qatar Airways after 13 Australian women were allegedly stripsearched by the country’s authorities.
The women were rounded up and subjected to the “invasive” examinations at Doha’s Hamad International Airport on October 2, following the discovery of a premature newborn in a terminal toilet.
As a result of the alleged abuse, the TWU is considering banning all servicing, cleaning or refuelling of Qatar Airways planes that fly into Sydney Airport.
The union says it has been forced to take on the airline in the past for ignoring the international labour rights of its workforce, and they’re willing to act again on this issue, Nine News reports.
The potential action will be put to a vote on Thursday.
The incident, which has been reported to the Australian Federal Police, has been described by Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne as “grossly disturbing and offensive”.
The women were allegedly dragged off a Sydney-bound plane by Qatari authorities and forced to undergo invasive examinations following the discovery of an abandoned baby at the airport.
The ABC has since spoken to two women who were passengers on Qatar Airways flight 908 to Sydney, which was delayed for hours after the premature baby was found alive in an airport bathroom.
“No-one spoke English or told us what was happening. It was terrifying,” one of the women told the ABC.
“There were 13 of us and we were all made to leave.
“A mother near me had left her sleeping children on the plane. There was an elderly woman who was vision impaired and she had to go too. I’m pretty sure she was searched.”
The other woman told the ABC she was taken to an ambulance and locked inside with a female nurse.
“They never explained anything. She told me to pull my pants down and that I needed to examine my vagina,” she said.
“I said ‘I’m not doing that’ and she did not explain anything to me. She just kept saying, ‘we need to see it, we need to see it’.”
She told the ABC she was forced to take off her clothes and was inspected and touched by the nurse.
“I was panicking. Everyone had gone white and was shaking,” she said.
“I was very scared at that point, I didn’t know what the possibilities were.”
The first woman who spoke to the ABC said while she respected Qatari law she was considering legal action.
“If the other 12 women came forward with a class action, I would definitely be part of that,” she said.
The total number of women subjected to the examination, and their nationalities, have not yet been revealed.
In a statement, Hamad International Airport said the child was safe and being cared for by medical and social workers.
It said medical professionals expressed concern to officials about the health and welfare of the mother and wanted to find her, and asked that she was found before she left the airport.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is waiting for a report from Qatari authorities into the incident.
Ms Payne said Australia took the matter “extremely seriously” and had taken it up with Qatari authorities here and in Doha.
“I understand inquiries are still taking place by those people affected by this occurrence and we also understand the matter has been reported to the Australian Federal Police,” the Foreign Affairs Minister said.
“This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events. It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context, (and) we have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter.”
Ms Payne said she was awaiting a report by Qatari authorities into what had occurred at the airport.
“Once I have seen that, we will determine next steps,” she said.
“It has been taken up directly with the ambassador here, and of course directly with authorities in Doha.”