Working in Saudi Arabia is difficult enough for the majority of expats in terms of lifestyle adjustments. But teaching contractors really don’t make it any easier. From my experience so far they are inefficient, lazy, incompetent and generally rude.
I was prepared for this by my interview for the company I work for with it’s head honcho. He asked me nothing during the interview about my teaching skills, abilities, experience etc… (Although he did seem interested in my “knowledge” of Saudi Arabia, which was refreshing and boosted my ego somewhat). It was obvious here that the company was pretty desperate for teachers. The only interview question he asked me was:
“What would you do if you were in a bar in London and someone knocked over your pint?”
I paused, briefly thinking this might be a trick question about alcohol. No, just because I’m in a bar in London, doesn’t mean I can’t handle a year without alcohol. Hmmm… So I gave an honest answer, and one which I figured would also happen to demonstrate I’m suitable teacher material (ie patient):
“Well, i’d firstly check to see if this person had noticed they’d knocked over my dri…..”
At this point I was interrupted. “No, that’s the wrong answer”, my soon-to-be-boss stated. “You’re going to be working in Saudi Arabia. Arabs like strong leaders. They like to be put in their place and told what to do, it’s the only way they’ll get anything done”. (Or words to that effect) He then cited Saddam Hussein’s gassing of a Kurdish village, and the fact that the village had been interviewed a few years later and stated they still supported Saddam, as proof that Arabs like strong leaders.
Yes boss, Arabs love strong leaders. It has nothing to do with a history of western colonial support for these leaders, or the fact that the resources of the region allow these leaders to stay in power, or the fact that strong leaders are seen as able to challenge Israel’s power. Oh and those revolutions last year challenging those strong leaders? Let’s just ignore those. My boss had demonstrated his alpha male qualities from the very start.
Anyway, I was very keen to work in KSA, and it seemed most teaching companies who worked there were just as bad, so I took the job.
Generally working life has been pretty easy. I work at a great little college, and my Saudi coworkers and Kuwaiti boss are great, and the hours aren’t too bad. Dealing with my contractors, though, has been a nightmare. Every month I have to leave the country for visa purposes. Because it’s cheap, we are sent to Bahrain, often on 2 days notice. The security situation there obviously isn’t great, but it’s not this that I mind…in fact it makes it more interesting for me. It’s the fact that our flights are booked so late in the day that we fly at ungodly hours. I’ve been here for 8 months and I’m yet to receive a shred of overtime payment. My paycheck is often late. Our salary isn’t broken down, so I have no idea if it’s correct or not. We are yet to receive any visa or travel expenses. Contacting my boss is a nightmare, he never answers emails about simple queries.
My point here isn’t to moan about minor things. It’s to highlight that there’s nothing I can do about any of these problems. Saudi labour law is sketchy at best, and our contracts are probably not worth the paper they’re written on. If I even suggest that I’ve spoken to the other teachers about the matter we could be changed with sedition. The other company who contract teachers at our college have just told them that they’ll be stuck in KSA for the summer, with no work to do, and under the terms of their visas they’ll be unable to leave.
This is clearly nothing compared to the abuses that migrant workers from less developed nations face in the Kingdom, and there’s even less that they can do, as they will often have no contract, no passport, and often no means of escape. My main contact with migrant workers has been through Filipinos. The nurses as I know tend to be marginally happier than the male workers, janitors and gardeners who work at my college. They live in a run down old tenement block nearby. They get around one week holiday a year. They are constantly borrowing money from us teachers. Most of the day they are out in the sun. When they aren’t, they’re being bossed around by Saudis. I went on a beach trip with some Saudis, and two Filipinos came along to help out. Basically working all day, ferrying food and drink. They confessed to me that they didn’t know if they were going to get paid.
Again, they have no awareness of their rights, and whether these rights exist or not. This subject has been written about extensively elsewhere (see this recent HRW article: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/04/10/saudi-arabia-step-aid-migrant-workers) , I’m just pointing to my experiences at the hands of what are essentially western contractors, buying into the Saudi way of doing things.
To finish something I hear someone say almost every day: “It’s no wonder they’re short of teachers”