x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

50 education officials released after dispute over pay imbalance

More than 50 employees of the Ministry of Education will leave their posts after their contracts were terminated last month amid complaints over salary disparities.

More than 50 employees of the Ministry of Education will leave their posts today after their contracts were terminated last month amid complaints over salary disparities. But a former senior consultant at the ministry who helped craft the compensation packages for some of the workers said the higher-than-usual salaries were necessary to lure qualified applicants from western countries.

Administrators at the American University in Dubai, who had been drawing up contracts and assisting the ministry with management of human resources, said they notified the executive council in Dubai last year of the "exaggerated" value of consultants' contracts. They pointed to inconsistencies in pay scales across the university contracts for consultants and administrative staff at the ministry. The university started drafting ministry contracts in August 2006 after a request to help manage human resources.

Elias Bou Saab, executive vice president of the university, said: "The entire system, the mechanism of hiring these people and the decisions that were made on how much they get paid, was not appropriate in my opinion and the universities opinion, and we felt that we should raise that issue, which we did on more than one occasion, and in the end we decided to say that we're not going to continue. "There were issues in the beginning with the first group that they brought, but it was minor and controlled because the numbers were five, six, or seven," Mr Bou Saab added. "And then it grew out of proportion since January or February."

Dr Vincent Ferrandino, former head of the department of policy and planning at the ministry, said the university dealt with the consultancy contracts in his department. "There was an agreement that the ministry made with the American University Dubai to transfer money from AUD to cover our contracts," Dr Ferrandino said, adding that the university drafted the contacts because they were accustomed to dealing with expatriate packages.

Dr Ferrandino was hired in 2006 to create a department charged with shaping the agenda for federal education reform. He said the six consultants he hired were brought to the UAE at the same salaries they had been earning in their home countries. "We were asking people to take on a position halfway around the world, away from family and friends; if we were asking them to do that and take a salary cut, I wouldn't get a lot of good people," Dr Ferrandino said.

"If you're comparing those salaries to what people in the UAE are paid, there probably is a discrepancy. But that's not the base we were operating from." University administrators said they raised the issue with Dr Hanif Hassan, then the Minister of Education. "Hanif Hassan took a decision that we shouldn't overpay," Mr Bou Saab said, "but then the decisions were coming from somewhere else, not Hanif Hassan."

klewis@thenational.ae