Dr. Spilchuk – My Experience at International School Lusaka…2017-06-02T14:25:40+00:00
Dear Dr. Spilchuk…

July, 2013

My Experience at International School Lusaka

ISR has received the following comments from the teacher involved in this incident (9-25-2014)
“I’m happy to report that the matter between myself and ISL “The International School of Lusaka, Zambia” has been settled privately.”

“…..To my utter disbelief and astonishment, I saw (in my file) that the government had first rejected my work permit application in writing on June 12, 2012. I was NEVER notified of this, and, in fact, I feel Mr. Bowen lied to me all fall term saying I needed to be patient until it was approved. Then, in ISL’s HR manager’s handwriting, there were notes that my work permit was rejected again in July, and a third time in August 2013. Again, ISL never notified me of this. Instead, they brought my family and myself to Zambia in August (against Zambian labor laws, I later learned) with FULL knowledge that I would be unable to work…. It was beyond belief.”

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

I am writing to inform you of the atrocious treatment my children and I received from the International School of Lusaka, Zambia (hereafter “ISL”) www.islzambia.org, and most specifically by Mr. Phil Bowen, Acting Head of School during the 2012-13 school year. ISL violated my contract and to this day has refused to pay severance as per contract. I would ask that you warn others.

Here are the facts, in chronological order:

2012

January
I was offered a two-year contract by Patrick Meyer, Head of School, as secondary librarian with ISL Zambia. There is a clause in contract that states if a work permit is NOT granted within 3 months, contract will be deemed “unenforceable” and 6 months’ gross salary paid as severance (plus return shipping and return airfare). We are also paid only 75% of our salary because the school withholds 25% as a forced savings, presumably to ensure contract completion. It is paid out at the end of the contract.

May
Received an email saying Patrick Meyer had been dismissed by the Board, 3 weeks before the end of school (a big red flag). I’m still in the States.

Board appoints Phil Bowen (primary principal) as Acting Head of School.

June
Asked HR several times about work permit, was mostly ignored, and then finally got response that it would be issued after my arrival in Zambia.

July
I arrived with my two children in Zambia.

Orientation for new teachers, in which the issue of work permits came up repeatedly. We were all reassured the school had never NOT been able to provide a work permit.

August
School began but I was told I couldn’t work because my work permit was not yet approved.

Placated by Mr. Bowen each time I went to see him in distress over the fact I couldn’t work. Always reassured I’d get work permit. Advised that if necessary, the Chairman of the Board would pull strings because he knew Head of Immigration. I asked explicitly if I should start looking for a new position as Plan B, and he always said “No.”

September
I am told by Mr. Bowen an outside consultant had been hired to procure the work permit. Was told consultant had met with Head of Immigration, who signed off on my work permit, and it was a “done deal,” it just needed to go through the committee. The term “done deal” was used over and over. Asked to see a copy of aforementioned document, was told it was with my file at Immigration. Expressed disbelief that a copy was not provided to the school, as proof (uncomfortable looks in the room by Mr. Bowen and Mr. Mwanza, secondary principal). Inquired as to why plan of having Chairman of the Board “pull strings” didn’t happen. Mr. Bowen told me hesitatingly that actually the Chairman of the Board didn’t support my work permit application and didn’t believe an overseas hire was needed to run the libraries.

Mr. Bowen told me he suspected someone related to ISL was sabotaging my work permit application. Why? No answer. I was given all kinds of excuses at this point, that Immigration had lost my file, so HR photocopied the entire file so they could open a temporary file. Again reassured it was a done deal. Some excuses made about the new Zambian government not allowing foreign librarians anymore. I found these excuses to be untrue, as I had been volunteering with a local NGO library project all fall (since I had so much free time). They have a British librarian with a work permit here in Lusaka, and she obtained it just a few months ago. The librarian at the American School (AISL) is also a foreigner. She has been here for 7 years and just had her work permit renewed this month.

The NGO I’ve been volunteering with offered to have the Head of Library Science at the University of Zambia write a letter in support of my work permit application. This was explained to Mr. Bowen and Mr. Mwanza. The NGO was working very hard on it when mysteriously, the Dean intervened and told the HOD he couldn’t write such a letter unless requested by the government. Another sabotage?

October
I had a meeting with Mr. Bowen and Mr. Mwanza because the next day (Oct 30) our tourist visas would expire and we would have to leave the country. They had proposed to send us back to the Washington, DC for two weeks, presumably so we could re-enter the country with a new visa. My colleagues and I smelled a rat, so I refused to go based on 1) we had nowhere to stay, 2) we would be uninsured because despite our contracts stating worldwide coverage, in fact, we have only been given local coverage, and 3) Hurricane Sandy. The school then decided to send us to Johannesburg for a week. They purchased the plane tickets, reserved the hotel, drove us to the airport, and gave me US $1,000 cash for expenses in Johannesburg.

Sure enough, received an insincere email from Mr. Bowen (while I’m in South Africa) expressing his angst that the Department of Labor to whom he claims to have appealed my file, had definitely refused my work permit. His email further states that the Department of Labor specified they would refuse to consider another work permit application from me for a different position or job title. This was an absurd claim. I replied asking why they would do so, since they had never met me, and why would they make such a personal attack on me? Mr. Bowen didn’t answer. To date, no proof provided of these absurd claims

November
In my absence Mr. Bowen announces in staff meeting it is time to “cut me loose” and that I need to move on.

While in Johannesburg, reactivated my files with TIE online, ISS and Search Associates; contacted references, etc. Began new job search for Aug 2013. If something comes up earlier, of course, I will take it, but realistically, my best chance at a new position is in August.

I return to Lusaka with my children, we received new tourist visas in our Canadian passports. Called Mr. Bowen that evening, distraught, to ask if at least my children could complete the term on Dec 7. Reassured verbally, “yes,” they could.

December
Tense meeting with Mr. Bowen and Mr. Mwanza. Mr. Bowen tried every possible tactic to pressure me to leave the country. He stated he had no choice but to enforce the conditions of service as mentioned above. He warned me he was concerned for my safety because he was worried that whomever had sabotaged my work permit, would continue to sabotage me if I stayed in Lusaka. I told him that was literally beyond belief, and that he should announce to the world my contract had been canceled so this mystery saboteur would leave me alone, and told him I refused to live with such paranoia. In hindsight, it sounded a lot more of a veiled threat than a warning. This action makes me homeless, unemployed, and uninsured with two children to raise. If this were solely about the contract, I’d have to just suck it up. However, since it smacks of corruption, sabotage, and threats surely the school has some legal liability? Mr. Bowen also put extreme pressure on me to find a new job for January. How likely is that, with two teenage children? I told him there was nothing I was even qualified to apply for posted on ISS, Etienne or Search that began in January. He replied he had seen “tons” of jobs for January and they were all two-year contracts. I asked him to please share that information with me. To date he hasn’t, because he can’t, because he’s lying.

I received two letters from Mr. Bowen dated 13 Nov 2012 stating 1) he was canceling my contract retroactive to October 31, 2012 and, 2) he didn’t support the idea of me making a special request to the Board to pay rent on the school housing unit so my children could complete the year until June. No mention of his agreement my children could complete the term. Realized suddenly we have been uninsured for two weeks and living in school housing illegally??? Collapsed again into distress, serious headaches, etc.

Distraught, unable to stop crying, visited a supportive colleague. She attempted to call Mr. Bowen on my behalf to clarify if he was honoring his word about letting my children finish the term or not. Was told by Mrs. Bowen that Mr. Bowen is out of the country for a week on unpaid leave. Colleague then called Mr. Mwanza, acting head of school in Mr. Bowen’s absence and explained the confusion and contradiction, and Mr. Mwanza also agreed my children could finish the term (still don’t have anything in writing)

Came down with malaria, and have spent days in bed (a colleague brought over some anti-malarial medication for me). We apparently are now uninsured.

Follow Up

In the latter half of November I met with a lawyer in Lusaka. She suggested I go to the Immigration Office myself to get proof of whatever the situation was. I also asked ISL to provide me with copies of all documents in their file related to my work permit. It was unknown why the government would deny my work permit, when I had more experience, degrees and qualifications than many other teachers ISL hired in August.

ISL provided me with some copies of documents from my file, and to my utter disbelief and astonishment, I saw that the government had first rejected my work permit application in writing on June 12, 2012. ISL appealed their decision in writing on June 15, 2012. I was NEVER notified of this. In fact, I feel Mr. Bowen lied to me all fall saying I needed to be patient until it was approved. Then, in ISL’s HR manager’s handwriting, there were notes that my work permit was rejected again in July, and a third time in August 2013. Again, ISL never notified me of this. Instead, they brought my family and myself to Zambia in August (against Zambian labor laws, I later learned) with FULL knowledge that I would be unable to work. They took a risk with my career, my well-being, and my ability to provide for my children by not disclosing to me that my work permit application had been rejected three times, and that I would risk having my contract terminated in 90 days. It was beyond belief.

I provided all this documentary evidence to my lawyer, who was stunned beyond words and offered to take my case on contingency basis, so shocking was the evidence against the school. She was certain the problem could be resolved with just a phone call to ISL, and immediately called Mr. Mwanza the secondary principal (as Mr. Bowen was out of town again). Mr. Mwanza declined to discuss the matter and asked my lawyer to put her concerns in writing, which she did by letter on December 14, 2012.

To date, ISL refuses to pay 6 months’ gross salary as severance. This is despite the fact the lawyer explained she will use ISL’s own contract and letter of termination against them in court. Both state 6 months’ gross salary. To date, ISL claims the Board wants to deduct the 3 months’ salary I received while still under contract — Aug – Oct 2012 — thus effectively reducing the severance pay to just 3 months’ salary. I have also reported ISL to its accrediting body, as the Board should not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the school or personnel matters, but in this case Mr. Bowen has said his “hands are tied” because of the Board. He made no attempt to resolve the matter himself, and showed himself to be a puppet for the termination-hungry Board. Also, ISL refuses to offer gross salary (even for 3 months) as they are still trying to withhold 25% of my contractual salary. I have consistently requested that ISL honor the terms of its own contract and termination letter. They refuse. To date there is no resolution, and I would like you to warn others to stay as far away from ISL as they can. This school is not to be trusted.

Fortunately, at the 11th hour I was offered a temporary contract elsewhere to begin in Jan 2013, so we were finally able to leave the nightmare of ISL. While I had demanded cash “advances” of my own severance pay in order to buy food in Nov and Dec of 2012, ISL refused to settle the matter before I left the country, and also did not pay for our shipping to leave the country. Mr. Bowen went on vacation with his family leaving me near destitute and not bothering to resolve the matter. ISL paid for our flights to the country of my new contract, however, as it cost them only US $1,500 instead of the US $4,500 they would have had to pay had they honored our contract to send us back to Washington, DC. Also, ISL has to date refused to provide me with an income summary for my taxes despite repeated requests in writing (claiming they will refund my taxes as I “should never have been brought to Zambia”) so I had to provide my pay slips to file my US income tax return and write a letter explaining why the school refused to give me a year-end summary.

This is by far the worst experience I have ever had with a school in over 10 years of teaching overseas. I want to warn others about SL Zambia. Not only did ISL violate everyone’s contract in terms of health insurance coverage, it deliberately misled me and other candidates about the 25% so-called “gratuity” which is in reality a forced withholding (also illegal according to Zambian labor laws). Even the contractual retirement contribution is deceitful because they either refused to pay it, or lumped it in with the salary (thus it was reduced by 30% income tax instead of being either tax-free or taxed at a lower rate). And while they say “matching contribution” with respect to retirement, in fact all they offer is a maximum of US $100/month, not even worth the wire transfer fee, after taxes. My case, however, is the most serious contractual violation of all, as ISL simply refuses to pay severance of 6 months’ gross salary as per contract and termination letter. I am now swimming in insurmountable debt, suffering from anxiety, and my children have had a horrible, disrupted year. I would like very much for ISL to amicably respect the contract as any school of integrity would do.

Your advice will be very much appreciated.

Sincerely,
Colette Pinkney
Lusaka, Zambia

Dear Colette,

After reading your timeline, the following is my sincere suggestion:

Negotiate immediately with the school/school officials for a buyout package. In your own words: “There is a clause in contract that states if a work permit is not granted within 3 months, contract will be deemed “unenforceable” and 6 months’ gross salary paid as severance. (plus return shipping and return airfare).”

It appears that the school owes you return shipping, airfare and 6 months’ gross salary as severance. Is this the case? My suggestion is that this is what you should try to negotiate as a severance package, if necessary with a local lawyer. Again, if this is the case, this is what the school would owe you, nothing more and nothing less….not housing and not schooling for your children.

Colette, children are more flexible than adults. Your children will quickly transition to a new school. After all, they are international students….this alone makes them more flexible than home-grown kids.

I think the real problem is that you fear you have no housing to return to in Canada, and you are not able to pay for housing when you do return. Do you have family or friends you can stay with until another position becomes available? I don’t believe that staying in a country that will not give you a work permit is helping your future plan. You have been in Zambia since end July. I would suggest that you deal quickly and decisively with this situation, take your return flights home, hopefully with the 6 months’ severance it appears you are due in your pocket.

Please do keep me informed.

Best,
Barbara

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