Hello Dr. Spilchuk,
I read the article posted regarding Kuwait and contractual obligations. I thought I would share my story and maybe that can help someone. I went to Kuwait on contract at Universal American School. It was post gulf war early 90’s. At the time the school was fine, it was a welcomed assignment. Unfortunately just after the school year opened I got so ill I almost died. Arabic and Egyptian doctors couldn’t explain…maybe depleted uranium exposure…anyway the school took care of me fine. 10 days in a great hospital, 10 days on my back in my apt. Later as school got going I had a colleague that was a nightmare for me and everyone else. I was starting to get upset at the headmaster/owner for not acting on complaints and in an email to another nearby school soccer coach I made a statement to the effect that we were going to lose the championship because of her decision making and it would serve her right, etc. This of course in retrospect was hastily said. Subsequently she got a copy of the email and I was fired. Sorry about that. Anyway the school tried to make me leave right away, I went to the ministry of education myself and found out they couldn’t do that. There was due process for the most part. I was allowed to request a hearing, a date was set, the owner and I sat before a hearing officer, we negotiated terms of dismissal. I got a severance and airfare home, along with a non-dismissal clause for the record. I also understood that if I had an attorney I could have prevailed even better. I did have to move out of the apt after a few days and I moved in with a friend until my hearing. I needed to make sure all my documents, complaints etc were also translated into arabic for filing and hearing purposes. Anyway, my visa was cancelled by the school following the hearing and I was given a ride to the airport and seen off on the plane. My Kuwaiti driver from the school cried at the airport…the Kuwaiti people in general were wonderful. I probably would go back but I think once you have a cancelled visa…that it is not likely. What I did learn is that you can do a lot to help yourself if you go directly to the law such as a ministry of education and or business licensing departments. All International schools are simply for profit businesses, so with that they have certain laws that must be abided by when hiring overseas contract workers, in spite of what the school contract says, its unfortunate that we sometimes have to use the laws.
Thanks for sharing. Things have not much changed in Kuwait and the law does protect, to a large degree, international teachers under contract to a school there. I would certainly agree that the Kuwaiti people, outside of the direct school administration, are lovely, caring people.
It is always good to have alternate experiences to share with ISR viewers and your story certainly clarifies many questions teachers thinking about Kuwait as a destination might have.
Thank you and best wishes for the New Year!
Dear Dr. Spilchuk,
You can leave Kuwait any time you like if you simply leave as if you are going on vacation. Teachers do this all the time. They just slip away without telling anybody and never return.
You mention “the end of October” as a special deadline. Actually it’s the first 100 days of your contract. Either you or your employer can choose to end the contract (without fault) up to 100 days after you begin your job. I have not seen any mention in contracts of repatriation if you are let go during the 100 day period. By the way, no school will ever “dismiss you without cause.” They will always come up with a reason to dismiss you.
I’m not sure why you think the Ministry tracks unfair school employers. We see no evidence of that. But then again, our idea of “unfair” and the Kuwait Ministry’s idea of unfair are probably not even close. There are constant abuses of workers here (not just teachers, but maids, drivers, construction workers, etc) as most of the blue collar workers here are really just indentured slaves.
I enjoy your column and am very glad that the ISR site exists so teachers have some info about what is really going on at schools around the world.
Hi Miss J.,
Thanks so much for your response. I agree that teachers can simply leave on vacation and not return, and that this happens all the time. My response dealt more with the formal exit process as I understood it. I suspect that each school offers different exit clauses in their contracts; I’m glad you have shared yours as it is quite different from my experience in Kuwait. The 100 day exit seems to be far more prevalent with teachers who are responding to PY’s letter; again, thank you for clarifying this. I suspect my contract was unique as I always build in ‘early out’ clauses so that if a situation is not one I feel comfortable with, my employer knows the bottom line about when I will leave, and that return air is expected. In some schools return air is included if a teacher’s contract is cancelled. In PY’s case, luckily for her, it was.
I also agree that the Ministry’s idea of “fair and just” is not the same as our understanding from Western ideology. While there is an accountability process that likely offers some protection to Western teachers, clearly many blue collar workers are, as you have indicated, treated as indentured slaves in Kuwait and not only by school employers. One need only read the local papers to learn (if up front and personal experiences are not readily available) about the hardships endured by Philippino, Indian and other foreign workers living in Kuwait who are neither white nor Western. My driver, a lovely person of Indian heritage, was exposed to continuous poor treatment. I also saw this practice applied to Bedoon employees. This is one of the reasons why I left Kuwait.
Thank you so much for opening up this line of conversation and clarifying issues regarding PY’s situation and the situation in Kuwait.
Best wishes and have a great New Years.