Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 10 April 2020

UAE teachers call for support groups to help protect rights

Staff say phone hotlines to report potential abuse could also be effective

A classroom. Reem Mohammed / The National 
A classroom. Reem Mohammed / The National 

Teachers in Dubai have called for the formation of specialist support groups and hotlines to counter what has been described as “bullying tactics” from schools.

Several current and former members of staff told The National that they had faced problems over breaches of contract and unpaid salaries, leaving them feeling powerless.

Employees argued stricter policies introduced by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai's private education regulator, could help better protect their interests.

They claimed that without correct support, teachers - especially younger members of staff - were often left too scared to speak up if they were being treated unfairly.

Many teachers are new here and take the word of the school as law. They are too scared to speak up and there is no transparency

British school teacher

“Schools squeeze as much as they can out of teachers and bully them,” said Robert Welsh, 43, founder of Teacher Socials, a support group in Dubai.

“Some schools have told teachers that if they left their employment within the probation period, the school would not pay for their flight back home.”

Mr Welsh said he believed that out of school groups could help teachers deal with stress, or assist those battling debt or depression.

But he said more needed to be done at an official level - with schools taking a more active role in employee needs.

“Many teachers are new here [in the UAE] and take the word of the school as law,” a teacher from the UK who asked not to be named told The National.

“A lot of these so-called rules are scare tactics and teachers do not question them. They are too scared to speak up and there is no transparency,” she said.

Robert Welsh, founder of Teacher Socials, a support group in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Robert Welsh, founder of Teacher Socials, a support group in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The employee suggested that the KDHA should set up a special unit to address teachers’ queries and to give legal advice. She also said an anonymous helpline could offer support and guidance.

Mr Welsh, who previously worked for a private school, revealed he had once had school officials inspect his accommodation unannounced. He said he was only informed via a later email which said his home had been untidy.

“They kept a set of keys without our knowledge,” he said.

Another former private school teacher from Ireland, who also did not want to be named, said he left his job within a year due to “unrealistic demands”.

He said his salary was frequently delayed, forcing him to live on a very tight budget for fear of becoming overdrawn.

If it’s a breach of a contractual agreement, it’s a straightforward case governed by the labour law

Hind Al Mualla, KHDA

“I received just Dh70 a month to cover my return flight home, which added up to just about Dh800 per year," he said.

"I saw all my friends getting a better travel allowance, but the school just argued that they could not pay me more."

In 2018, KHDA studied the well-being of staff for the first time and found 43 per cent of adults in schools were "just getting by or just functioning".

But teachers who think their contracts are being breached are able to raise any issues with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.

“If it’s a breach of a contractual agreement, it’s a straightforward case governed by the labour law,” said Hind Al Mualla, chief of creativity, happiness and innovation at KHDA.

Gems Education, the largest private education provider in the country, said it had systems in place to ensure the well-being of its staff.

Its teachers can book an appointment with a school counsellor for an informal meeting. Other schools offer after-class staff activities to help alleviate stress.

“Well-being walls, where positive feedback is shared by parents, students and other staff help create a positive atmosphere,” said Sara Hedger, head of safeguarding and child protection at Gems Education.

“There are monthly picnics for all staff members, not just teachers, to encourage a community [feeling] and a social support network.

“Mental health first aid teams have been trained in many schools to spot early signs of stress, anxiety or depression so that teachers can be helped."

Taaleem Schools, which operates several international schools in the country, also follows a strict policy when it comes to the welfare of its teachers.

Employees who face problems can email the group’s chief executive direct.

"We recognise that being a teacher is a stressful vocation and offer support and guidance through peers, line management, counsellors and an external employee assistance programme," said Gavin Walford‑Wright, an admissions officer.

"Taaleem partners with an external employee assistance programme provider to ensure the mental health and well-being of our staff is protected," he said.

Updated: January 19, 2020 09:52 AM

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