Saudi teachers complain of exploitation
Women expats, many from Western countries, say employer has violated their contracts and burdened them with extra work.
March 31, 2010 5:59 by Walaa Hawari
A number of expatriate women teachers in Riyadh, many of them from Western countries, are complaining the company that employed them has violated their employment contracts, not kept promises and has been burdening them with extra work.
“Since arriving last October, we’ve been forwarding our complaints to the company that recruited us. Our contracts state that our families would be joining us, and six months on they’re still not here,” said one of the teachers, who requested anonymity.
She added that what has been particularly worrying is the well-being of a Western colleague who, suffering from psychological problems, disappeared from Riyadh’s airport after being taken there to be returned home.
“We had also brought her condition to the attention of the management at Arabian Education and Training Group (AETG), the company responsible for our contracts and whose general manager’s name is on our contracts, but no action was taken and the lady broke down mentally more than once,” said the teacher.
The management interfered much later, she said. By then the teacher was taken to hospital and promised that an emergency visa would be arranged to enable her to bring a family member to the Kingdom to escort her to her home country.
The teacher was, however, taken from hospital, put up in a hotel and then taken to the airport to travel home alone even though she was in a terrible condition.
“We were then informed that she had disappeared from the airport and no one is aware of her whereabouts,” said the teacher.
Around 100 teachers had been recruited by AETG to teach at a prominent university in Riyadh. Most of the teachers have left, disappointed at working conditions and the inability to bring along their families.
Salim Ameen, AETG’s visa and recruitment officer, rejected the allegations, adding that some of the teachers were brought to the Kingdom on temporary work permits and visas by their own choice, and that they were informed that their contract states that teachers could bring their families but the company is not committed to arranging this.
“Some teachers, like those from Canada and America, can acquire temporary work visas, which cannot be transferred into permanent work visas. The contracts are general, they state that they have the right to bring their families, but they do not commit the group to do so,” said Ameen.
He added that should they wish to bring their families, the company will provide them with the necessary documents and submit them to Saudi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“From the first few days of the job, we discovered we were teaching at a university and Al-Faisal Academy at the same time. The living conditions were not as we expected. It was, however, the case of our colleague which blew up the entire situation because it was then that we discovered the poor management and communication, which prevented her from getting proper medical care,” said the teacher.
She added that when the management was informed of the teacher’s condition, it refused to sign a request for medical care, which led to her condition worsening.
A source at Al-Faisal Academy denied the institute had anything to do with the recruitment or management of expatriate teachers.
Meanwhile, another Western teacher recruited by AETG said she is stranded in her accommodation waiting to return home. “I have been waiting for three weeks in my room after I was fired from my job,” said the teacher who also preferred anonymity.
This teacher also came to the Kingdom on a temporary work permit and said she was not informed the visa could not be transferred into a permanent one.
Nevertheless, her real agony began when she asked for her passport, which she said had a valid visa. “When I was given the passport I was informed that the visa had expired and that I needed to travel to Bahrain to the group’s office to renew it,” she said.
She added that to her disappointment she was turned away by immigration authorities as her visa had expired two months before.
She then returned to Riyadh by bus and informed the company. “They took my passport again claiming that they would renew the visa themselves, that there was a SAR10,000 fine for the visa expiry and that I had been fired. The reasons they gave were unjustified,” she said.
A week later, she was told a flight had been booked for her to return home. She was taken to the airport and left there. She was, however, unable to pass immigration because of the outstanding fine. The teacher then informed the company, which picked her up from the airport, gave her a room in a compound, and took her passport to renew the visa.
“All that I get when I call them is ‘tomorrow,’ ‘tomorrow.’ I have been waiting for the last three weeks,” she said, adding that her embassy has also contacted the company and received the same reply.
“I have no job, no passport, no money and I just want to go home,” said the teacher.
One of the teachers said they had been promised that their families would be with them within 21 days of their arrival in the Kingdom. Some were told their husbands would be with them within one week of their coming and their children within three weeks.
“Based on all that, we resigned from our jobs, sold our homes and furniture, and did not enroll our children into schools,” wrote the teacher in a letter to Arab News.
She added that they were later informed that their families could only come to the Kingdom on visit visas. The teachers’ requests for housing allowance also elicited a blank response.
There is still no news about the teacher who disappeared from the airport and no one from AETG was available for comment.