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University housing angers new staff

Some professional employees of UAE University have threatened to find new jobs after claiming that the housing they were promised in their contracts has not materialised.

AL AIN // Some professional employees of UAE University have threatened to find new jobs after claiming that the housing they were promised in their contracts has not materialised or is substandard. The university hired 100 new faculty and support staff in an institutional expansion. While many of the new staff have been assigned accommodation, others are still waiting to be housed and claim the flats they were offered are unacceptable.

One block of housing is being referred to by staff as "the compound" because of its unappealing appearance and location. They have been told they will be moved into the building once the electricity has been connected. "It's miserable. The construction is shoddy and the apartment is tiny, the sink is four inches deep," said one new staff member, who wished to remain anonymous. "I was given the impression before coming that there was a certain quality of housing. I'm now thinking of going back to where I originally come from."

Another employee added: "Some apartments have no windows, only light shafts. I wouldn't live there, myself." Staff said it was the only university accommodation they were aware of that was available to them. The university administration said they had more buildings but would not say whether apartments were available for rent. The housing situation has prompted some disillusioned staff to consider leaving, even though they could face heavy penalties for breaking their contracts. "The compound," on a busy Al Ain roundabout, is a beige-and-brown-coloured building that stands alone in a sand pit littered with rubbish. A cause of great concern among staff - some of whom have children - is the nearby electricity pylon and cables above and the caged transformer in front of the building. They fear health risks.

The university administration has said there are plans to move the transformer underground and that the building complies with safety regulations. "The building has been inspected by the government and the municipality," said Dr Fatima al Shamsi, secretary general of the university. "It wouldn't have been built there if it was a health hazard." Staff also claim the university was not upfront about the housing situation before bringing in the new staff and faculty and if they had been, they would have reconsidered the job offers.

"We didn't know there was a shortage of housing. If I had known, I don't think I would have come," one said. "People who just got here are thinking about resigning." Dr Abdullah al Khanbashi, vice chancellor of the university, conceded that the school had trouble housing staff, but said there were several reasons for it. "It's a matter of not enough units on the market and at the same time, the demand, and then the units that we have scheduled to [let] will be finished in November or December." Dr Khanbashi said that some landlords who had signed contracts with the university nonetheless provided housing for other institutions. We have court cases with them now."

Dr Shamsi said that less than 20 of the 100 new staff are very upset. Housing priority was given to people with families over singles and childless couples, she said. The university has assured employees that the new building should be ready in two weeks, and that those unhappy with the housing could find accommodation outside the university but would have to pay any rent above their annual housing allowances.

jhume@thenational.ae

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