KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Airlines' work policies for its women flight attendants are "embarrassing", says the MAS Employees Union's executive secretary since 2003, Mustafar Maarof.
"I was asked often about MAS's employment policies at the Civil Aviation Union international conferences in Vienna and Toronto," he said, adding that the international community viewed discrimination at work "very seriously".
"I don't like to put my country down but, when people ask me, I have to tell the truth. It's disappointing and embarrassing that our national airline's employment policies aren't on par with those of other national carriers," Mustafar told the New Straits Times yesterday.
Commenting on a New Sunday Times report on a paper written by a Universiti Malaysia Terengganu lecturer, he said the debate over the retirement age for women cabin crew had been going on for a long time.
"At MAS, most female flight attendants retire at 40. Lead cabin crew can work till they are 45. Men retire at 55 no matter what (their) grade.
"This is highly discriminatory. There are national carriers in Asia where women cabin crew retire much later."
Japan Airlines, Mustafar said, has fixed the retirement age for female cabin crew at 60. Stewardesses at Air India and Indonesia's Garuda International Airlines can work until they are 55.
"At 40, a woman may still have a mortgage and other expenses, so she needs a regular income," he said.
The paper said MAS had discriminatory employment policies that were contrary to the Constitution and the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which Malaysia ratified in 1995.
"Together with women's non-governmental organisations, the union has written countless memoranda urging MAS and the government to review the retirement age," said Mustafar.
"Unfortunately, nothing has changed. As a national airline, MAS should stop discriminating against its female cabin crew."
At budget airline AirAsia, women flight attendants can work till they are 55.
"The retirement age for AirAsia cabin crew, who are all permanent staff, is 55," said a media relations spokes-man.