Spanish prosecutors are investigating a recruitment company following allegations that it made women applying to be flight attendants strip down to their underwear and that it vetted candidates on the grounds of race.
Meccti, which describes itself as the “World’s No 1 Aviation Recruitment Agency”, held a series of interviews for cabin staff jobs for Kuwait Airways in November in a hotel in Madrid. According to Spanish news site elDiario.es, citing the testimonies of several women who applied, female candidates were asked to remove articles of clothing during their interviews.
“The first girl that went in came out crying and she told the rest of us that they had made her take off all her clothes except her underwear,” one of the candidates, identified as Bianca, told elDiario.es.
“The others came out saying the same thing and I found it hard to believe. But they weren’t exaggerating.”
The news site reported that recruiters also examined the women’s teeth and made derogatory remarks about their bodies.
“One [candidate] was told not to continue because she had moles on her face,” said Mariana, another woman who applied for the job. “Another was told she was a bit chubby.”
Mariana herself was asked whether she could “lose a few kilos”.
“You feel like an animal in the zoo,” she said of the vetting.
It was also alleged that, after undergoing this process, one woman received a rejection via text message from one of those who carried out the recruitment which read: “I am sorry to have to inform you that Kuwait Airways is not going to hire cabin staff with dark skin.”
Kuwait Airways was not available for comment when contacted by The Irish Times. However, in a previous statement, the company said it uses “the same third-party cabin crew recruitment agency that 90 per cent of the area[’s] airlines have utilised” and that the airline “cannot condone any processes that humiliate or degrade any person”. It also said it was conducting a full investigation.
Earlier this month, the Comisiones Obreras trade union took legal action based on the claims, calling for an investigation. The state prosecutor in Madrid is now looking into the case to decide whether a crime was committed.
The Spanish government already criticised the recruitment process, suggesting that it believes the company did violate labour laws.
“This is intolerable behaviour which attacks the dignity and the fundamental rights of these women,” said secretary of state for employment Joaquín Pérez Rey, when the allegations came to light.
“A [recruitment] process cannot be based on discriminatory factors or on sensitive, personal information,” he said. “In this case, moreover, they went further with degrading behaviour.”
Under Spanish labour laws, those responsible could face a fine of €225,000 if found guilty of the accusations. The labour ministry has opened its own investigation.
In an initial statement, Meccti, a Middle Eastern firm whose clients also include Qatar Airways and Etihad, said the candidates who had made the claims were lying.
“The company completely denies the veracity of the libellous allegations of those who took part in the selection process and especially that the interviews took place with degrading behaviour such as that which is alleged,” it said in a statement issued by its lawyers. It threatened legal action against anyone who published the accusations.
The statement also said a Moroccan subcontractor, Meiservices Sarl, had carried out the process and that no Meccti employees were involved. However, soon after its statement, Meccti announced it was carrying out an internal investigation.
According to further reports, Meccti demanded a payment of €1,900 from each candidate who successfully overcame the initial vetting, in order to continue with the process. The company said the payment was to finance an online psychometric test and that the money would be returned if the application was unsuccessful.
“[The company] explained that they were going to invest a lot of money in us and they needed this in order to know that we would accept if we were chosen,” said one of the candidates.