Ina Meliesa Hassim 25 year employee loses bid to keep job: Malaysia Airlines flight attendant fired for tipping 700 grams heavier for ideal BMI weight employment mandate.
Ought an employer be able to demand its employees maintain a certain weight or appearance? And what about flyer’s expectations of an ideal flight attendant?
A flight attendant who was fired for being 700 grams heavier than the airline’s maximum BMI weight allowance has lost her unfair dismissal case in court.
Malaysia Airlines flight supervisor Ina Meliesa Hassim had been with the airline for about 25 years when she lost her job in 2017.
Under company policy, flight attendants had to ensure their body mass index (BMI) was in the ‘healthy’ range, The Edge Markets reported. For 160cm-tall Ms Hassim, that meant her weight could be no greater than 61kg (134 pounds).
Her contract was terminated when an official weigh-in found the woman weighing 61.7kg.
In turn, Hassim filed a complaint against the airline company for unfair dismissal.
But a Malaysian industrial court ruled in favor of Malaysia Airlines at a hearing on February 14 according to Malaysia’s Berita Harian.
‘The court is convinced that the company had provided the claimant with ample opportunities and chances to comply with the company’s policy and that despite the many opportunities, however, the claimant had consistently failed to achieve her optimal weight,’ court chairman Syed Noh Said Nazir said in the ruling, according to The Edge Markets.
The court found the airline had been clear to staff regarding its weight policy and how it was necessary to ‘maintain its image as a premium airline’.
‘As cabin crew, apart from maintaining the appearance as set by the company, you are also responsible to ensure the safety of our passengers while in flights,’ the airline said in a memo to staff in 2015.
‘Being front liners in uniform, cabin crew cast an unforgettable image in the minds of our valued guests.
‘It is for this reason that the company considers the feedback received from our customers on the image of crew and inevitably even the appearance of cabin crew has been included as one of the attributes in the passenger flight experience survey and which is being tracked monthly.
‘ … With this policy in place, the airline will see healthier cabin crew who will project an image befitting that of the world’s best cabin staff as well as for ensuring the passengers’ safety when the necessity arises.’
Malaysia Airlines told the court Ms Hassim had failed to attend scheduled weigh-ins in addition to not achieving the optimal weight, and that she had been offered consultation with an aviation doctor.
Her lawyers unsuccessfully argued major airlines such as Qantas, British Airways and Lufthansa did not have minimum BMI weights for cabin crew and that less than 1kg of extra weight would not prevent Ms Hassan from doing her job properly.
Malaysian government criticized
The National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam) has voiced out its disappointment with the court’s ruling.
Seeking redress for Ina’s mistreatment, Nufam urged the Malaysian government to amend labour laws which are discriminatory.
Nufam added that it would be writing to the Human Resources Ministry and the Transport Minister, Anthony Loke, to ask them to reconsider such terminations by airlines.
In a statement on Feb. 19, Nufam said that the ruling reflected poorly on the airline, according to Free Malaysia Today (FMT), as it supposedly showed that MAS had discriminatory practices.
Nufam also asked rhetorically what will happen to MAS’s ‘young and slim’ cabin crew if they put on weight in later years.
Malaysia Airlines flight attendants as arm candy?
Malaysia’s Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) also echoed Nufam’s disagreeement in regards to Ina’s case, reported New Straits Times.
WAO labelled Malaysia Airlines as sexist and discriminatory for sacking Ina only based on her weight.
This consequently emphasizes the degrading and dehumanizing notion that air stewardesses are merely for eye candy, explained WAO.
Like Nufam, WAO also suggested that stronger anti-discrimination laws should be put in place by the Malaysian government.
It added that the Human Resources Ministry must table the proposed laws in Malaysia’s Employment Act as soon as possible.
WAO added that if Malaysia Airlines wanted to be seen as a respectable airline, it had to treat its staff with respect.
The court’s decision also raised questions as to whether staff served to facilitate flyer and airliner needs and to what degree those tasks were conditional, if at all, on a flight steward’s appearance?
Other airliners seek to enforce BMI requirements:
This case is far from the first time a flight attendant’s weight has come under close scrutiny.
In January last year, a leaked staff memo revealed Pakistan International Airlines instructed “obese” cabin crew workers to lose weight within six months or risk losing their jobs.
The memo, dated January 2, revealed that management for the airline had decided to ‘gradually reduce waiver of 30 lbs (13.6kg) excess weight to zero lbs in upcoming months for the cabin crew’.
‘If any crew found above 30 lbs from the desired weight after January 31, 2019 will be grounded and referred to Aircrew Medical Centre for medical evaluation and treatment until weight is reduced up to desired standard/BMI,’ the memo read.
In 2015, Air India said it would permanently ground 130 members of its cabin crew workforce who failed to lose enough weight to achieve a BMI of less than 22.
Perhaps it should go un-noticed stringent employer BMI demands falling with those nations historically maintaining overtly sexist attitudes towards women.
Of note, the BMI of the average woman in the U.S. is 29.6, which falls into the category of ‘overweight‘. Like most airlines, hiring guides maintain weight and height parameters for flight attendants ensuring that prospective hires can comfortably fulfill tasks required of them. US carriers like most Western carriers at present do not employ strict BMI guidelines.