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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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
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.
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.