Dozens who fled war are sacked

25th April 2003 at 01:00
KUWAIT. Teachers were told to leave Kuwait but now many who did have been fired and accused of 'deserting' pupils. Brendan O'Malley reports

DOZENS of British teachers who left Kuwait in the run-up to war in line with British embassy advice have been forced out of their jobs.

Most have been denied holiday pay and annual gratuity payments. All claim they have been denied payment of their March salary and around half have been denied the cost of a return flight promised to them before they left, most of them on February 26.

Fourteen British teachers were told not to return to the Kuwait National English School two days after they were invited back. Seventeen teachers at the British School of Kuwait who say they had been promised their March salary and the cost of a return flight on return were shocked to be told before Easter not to return. Their requests for information about money they claim is due to them have gone unanswered.

Sawal Khan, a maths teacher in charge of key stage 4 at KNES, said 11 teachers returned to Kuwait on April 9, a date previously agreed with the school, but were sacked. They say they have not received the March salary, two months' notice due to them or gratuity payments of two weeks' salary for each year they had been at the school.

Chantal al Gharabally, director of KNES, was unobtainable for comment.

Mr Khan said: "It's utterly unreasonable. Anyone thinking of going out to Kuwait needs to be fully aware of how they have played with people's livelihoods."

Staff at the British School of Kuwait told The TES that 17 teachers received a standard notice telling them the school was "unable to re-employ" them for the rest of the academic year or thereafter.

One teacher, who wished not be named, said he was told in a personal meeting with BSK principal, Graham Hawkins that they would be getting a letter from the school lawyer "indicating that we would not receive any of the monies owing to us, money that is rightly ours". The teacher, married with a one-year-old baby, said when he asked why he had lost his job, the principal told him he had been shocked that he had been on the first wave of flights out of Kuwait, deserting the school in its hour of need.

Robert Durrant, a former headteacher, who has been teaching English at BSK since September, confirmed that at a staff meeting before the first wave of departures Mr Hawkins assured staff that March salary and flight payments would be honoured - though only on their return to Kuwait.

He said Mr Hawkins pressed staff to return at the height of the war. Emails from Mr Hawkins on March 27, 30 and 31 invited specific staff to resume their jobs by April 12. But on March 29, the British embassy warned Britons not to return to Kuwait, due to the increased risk of terror and missile attacks. The warning came hours after a missile damaged a shopping centre south of Kuwait City.

Despite this, Mr Hawkins' messages said if staff did not return by April 12 their apartments would be released and if war continued hard choices would have to be made.

Mr Hawkins said when deciding who to keep on he took into account the early date at which some staff had left. He said slow fee payments and the cost of employing extra staff or bonuses for staff who kept the school - of mainly Kuwaiti and non-Western children - running during the crisis meant difficult decisions had to be made. Those not invited to return would not be paid for their flight to the UK, March salary, annual gratuities or summer holiday pay.

"If I had taken those measures, it's quite possible the school would have gone out of business," he said. "I fully understand how some colleagues will feel aggrieved."

Mr Durrant said: "We left Kuwait on strong Embassy advice, but only after the principal had assured us that we would not be seen as being in breach of contract. Now the school has ripped up our contracts. It refuses to honour any of the promises made."

Working overseas, Jobs 1

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