Qatar Airways Faces Strike Over Examination of Australians

Qatar Airways faces an effective grounding of its planes in Sydney as workers consider striking over the treatment this month of some female Australian passengers in Doha.

The union representing Sydney airport workers is considering refusing to service, clean or refuel Qatar Airways jets. Members “are angry at the brutal attack on the human rights” of the women, the Transport Workers’ Union in the Australian state of New South Wales said in a statement Tuesday.

The escalating dispute follows medical examinations of some women who were departing Qatar on Oct. 2 bound for Sydney. According to Australian media reports, staff at Hamad International Airport in Doha discovered a premature baby abandoned in a toilet at the airport. Women on the plane, including 13 Australians, were then taken off the flight and subjected to invasive, naked inspections in an ambulance without their consent.

In Qatar, it is illegal for women to have sex or become pregnant outside of marriage.

The baby girl, who is now safe and receiving medical care in Doha, was found in a plastic bag and buried in a trash can in “what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her,” the Qatar government’s communications office said in a statement Wednesday.

This triggered a search, including nearby flights, for the infant’s parents, the Qatari government said. “The State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action,” it said.

Representatives from Qatar Airways didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

An earlier statement released by the airport said that after the newborn was found, medics were concerned about the health of the mother, and asked that she be found before departing the airport.

Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, on Monday described the incident as “grossly disturbing” and “offensive,” and said the government had raised the issue with Qatari authorities.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday that the search methods used were unacceptable.

“As a father of a daughter, I could only shudder at the thought that anyone, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to that,” Morrison said, adding that the Australian government would await the results of an investigation by Qatarti authorities before deciding what further action to take.

“Qatar should fix this problem they have created or they will face the angry uproar from union members in NSW,” Richard Olsen, NSW State Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union, said in the statement.

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