NEWS AND WARNINGS: Westerners Seek Jobs in Gulf to Beat High Living Costs
By Kevin Stoda
In last weeks Kuwait Times, Sarah Abdullah wrote an article entitled, “More Westerners Seek Jobs in Gulf to Beat High Living Costs”.
In a way there was little new to the story: (1) Recession and bad economic management of the political economy in the USA and (2) the subsequent housing markets negative effects on finance have led to (3) many Americans and British leaving their homelands to make ends meet by working in the Persian Gulf where (4) a great deal of international capital is being funneled these days in the wake of the world’s rising petroleum prices.
What was not mentioned in Abdullah’s article is the sheer numbers of global immigrants who are seeking jobs so far from home.
Moreover, the contexts of working in the gulf are underplayed in terms of the cartels, monopolies, and societal norms & peculiarities, which cause long-term stress and propel potential success or failure for the job hopefuls in the long and short term.SARAH ABDULLAH’S NARRATION
In her narration, Sarah Abdullah shared the following tidbits:
In a story of one settler, Abdullah records, “My family and I have been living in Riyadh and Jeddah for the past seven years.”
Diana, a nurse from Hawaii who works at a government hospital, said this, too . “Despite local complaints about the high cost of rent and food in the region, it is still better living here in terms of housing, utility rates, food and fuel costs. In the US, many people have lost their jobs due to numerous company layoffs.”
With the UK and Germany having their worst growth rates in years, many Europeans from different lands are also making the exit to the Gulf, where they often have tax-free or partially tax free jobs.
Dimitri, a British national, stated, “I first moved to the Middle East two years ago as part of a relocation program I applied for with the company I currently work for. I was first sent to the UAE when they opened an office in Dubai an was then relocated to Saudi Arabia initially for one year.”
Many who live in compounds or gated communities in Saudi Arabia or some other parts of the Gulf state chime in, “I must admit I had concerns about the standard and way of living in the Kingdom and the region. However, upon moving to Saudi Arabia, I found that these worries are somewhat a myth. Having lived here for over eight months, I would be willing to extend the duration of my contract here.”
Michelle, an American science teacher at an International School in Jeddah for the last two years, added, “I think another advantage of living in Saudi Arabia is the crime rate. Things happen from time to time here, but incidents aren’t so widespread compared to other countries.”
Sarah Abdullah ends her piece by noting that there has been an upswing in Western expats entering Kuwait, too: “While British nationals continue to comprise the bulk of Westerners, more and more Americans, Canadians, French and Germans among others are seeking opportunities in Kuwait in order to escape few jobs and higher living costs in their home countries.”WHAT’S NOT BEING SHARED
I believe it is fairly obvious that some things are not being shared clearly to potential settlers from the West through such rosy narration orprognostic.
For example, Sarah Abdullah doesn’t note:
--Kuwait and Saudi Arabia border Iraq where a civil war has continued for over 5 years now.
--Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar also have a surprising degree of underdevelopment economically—due to crony capitalism and resistance to reform in several parts of the society & political economies, including the areas of women’s rights and harassment at the work place.
--There is also the fact that many who come to this region witness various forms of racism in terms of salaries and in terms of recognition of academic degrees, based on arbitrary decisions made by the ministries of the Interior (MOI) and the Ministry of Education.
--Power shortages and water shortages are expected again this summer 2008 in Kuwait—likely the hottest country on the planet, and a place where labor has relatively no right to organize when one is forced to illegally work overtime or in the heat, etc.
In order to create more balance than Sarah Abdullah’s article appears to do. I suggest that Westerners know a fuller story before becoming fully in enticed into giving up their homeland for a “higher standard of living”, I will share the following about my colleagues and my own black-listing or black-balling experiences within the city state capitalism of Kuwait (and neighboring lands)—i.e. as currently practiced in the wealthiest parts of the Persian Gulf in 2008.BLACKBALLING & BLACKLISTING in Job Market Kuwait &Gulf
Due to crony capitalism (or fraternal wasta capitalism) as practiced in small-closed communities around the Arab world, rumors and unspoken agreements are taken more seriously and are more problematic for the foreign workforce in the Gulf than in many other parts of the world.
For example, I used to teach very successfully at Gulf University of Science and Technology (GUST) in Kuwait as an English as a Foreign Language instructor. I was laid off in the summer of 2006 after severing in that capacity over 2 ½ years. I was laid off from the university without being given a reason orally or in writing why this non-renewal had occurred. According to the guidelines for university professionals in both Kuwait and in the USA, this was an illegal act of dismissal.
There were a few possibilities for my lay off:
(1) My lack of strong connection to the right people in human resources and in other campus’ departments. Connections are called “wasta” in Kuwait and are more than the lifeblood of society here—wasta is in the air and greases all the wheels of life here in the Gulf each and every day—in and outside academia.
I had taught as a progressive staff member at GUST who wanted very much to help Kuwaitis succeed well in the market places of work and academics. I set high standards and helped students achieve them. Despite my high standards and demands on students’ achievement , I was fairly popular with the students at GUST—the youth of Kuwait who are demanding more from their modern life than what their parents and elders provide.
(2) My having upset one Dean of Liberal Arts, who didn’t respect anyone who didn’t have a doctorate, is possibly another rationale for my non-renewal.
Let me explain. I had simply asked the Dean of Liberal Arts to meet with me to consider my various proposals to introduce English for special purposes courses into a variety of academic subject areas where hundreds of Kuwaiti students were struggling to do well. The Head of the English Department didn’t think my suggestions were bad. As well, the acting Business Dean at GUST liked the ideas and my course and seminar & training suggestions for staff across the curriculum, but the Egyptian-born Dean of Liberal Arts still refused to meet with me face-to-face for over 18 months. Only then did I suddenly receive a non-renewal of my contract. Interestingly, that same Egyptian dean was eased out her job at the same month—I have wondered if there had been a qui-pro-quo, i.e. my non-renewal for her resignation.
(3) The crony capitalism involved in financing Gulf University (GUST), the wealthiest private university in the country, also might have led to my non-renewal.
For example, the university leaders in 2006 had found an outsourcing firm, owned surprisingly--by one of the board of directors at GUST. This firm had agreed to take over the whole EFL program at GUST. Another outsourced firm also began to operate immediately after I left GUST in my old department. [This particular out-source educational firm also belongs to a family firm of a relative of one of the university’s many secret investors. This firm then paid new EFL teachers in Autumn 2006 starting salaries of 20% to 40% lower than the university had. This was then followed by other dismissals and forced resignations at GUST.]
In short, despite the fact that GUST is the partner university of the University of Missouri at St. Louis (MSL) in the USA, i.e. a stated educational system where it is absolutely against the law to not-renew any employee’s contract after 2 years, i.e. without giving a single reason or performance review, I was laid off.IN THE INTERIM—More Blacklisting in Kuwait Abounded
Since I couldn’t afford a lawyer to force GUST to either higher me back or pay me off—as other employees who speak Arabic have done in the past--, I simply got a new job.
I subsequently found worked elsewhere in Kuwait. However, one year later--after I published this research on wasta in Kuwait, on Op-Ed News last summer
--, I began almost immediately to get pressure in Kuwait (at an unbelievable level) from many unseen sources, but often stemming from the family of investors, who own GULF UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY in KUWAIT.
First, in late November 2007, my full-time job teaching at an Oil Company was also ended in a lay off—alongside a group of other 45 year olds.
Next, in early December 2008, the American University of Kuwait (AUK), for whom I had been planning to teach part-time starting in 2008, sent me an e-mail stating that I would not be teaching with them.
Subsequently, in January 2008, my new boss in a part-time position of mine at AMIDEAST in Kuwait picked a fight—or what appeared in retrospect to have been an unfair and a staged fight with me—and dismissed me. On the way out the door, he shouted loudly at me how certain unknown voices emanating from Gulf University of Science and Technology were spreading terrible and untrue rumors about me. He threatened, “Your reputation (from GUST) proceeds you.”
I responded to this blackballing by first meeting with that American NGO’s (AMIDEAST) head in Kuwait about the unfair and clearly illegal sudden dismissal from my part-time teaching load.
This director for AMIDEAST Kuwait agreed in our meeting that her employee had behaved unseemly and inappropriately. She also agreed to tell her employees to stop spreading rumors about me, i.e. based on innuendos from unknown peoples at Gulf University.
Next, I met with the Vice Chancellor at Gulf University of Science and Technology and asked that he send the word out to Human Resources and elsewhere at GUST to cease and desist from harassing me at my new work locations and stop stating false things about me whenever some employer calls to ask about me.
Then, in April, I signed a lucrative teaching contract for one of the private schools in Sabah Salim.
So, I was relieved to think that the familial blacklisting by Kuwaiti (crony monopolies)of my good name had ended in Kuwait.ONCE AGAIN BEING BLACKLISTED
Suddenly at the end of this very May 2008, I was suddenly called to the school in Sabah Salim, where I was readying to teach starting in August.
That day, I was told that this very new school of mine had received orders from their own parent company, known as IPE, which owned 12 other schools in the Middle East region. In the memorandum, that school in Sabah Salim and all the other IPE schools were not any longer allowed to hire any teachers whom had formerly worked at Gulf University of Science and Technology in Kuwait.
It is not clear how, when, nor why this new deal was made between IPE and GUST.
However, this time I was surely not the only prospective teacher in a bind by IPE’s new rule. This is because several other former teachers at GUST were being blacklisted as well from working with any IPE schools anywhere.
The school officials in Sabah Salim said they were frustrated by the new rule and had wanted to hire another staffer, but they were now being forced to look elsewhere.MEETING MORE BLACKLISTED FOLK IN KUWAIT
Since I had begun running up against with the Kuwaiti kinships propaganda rumor mill which seems to drive these small city states in the Gulf, I have discovered that there have been many such blacklisting agreements between schools and universities in Kuwait, i.e. not to hire staff from each other.
For example, reports from the Lebanon based American Open University in Kuwait indicate that currently all Americans are being blacklisted from hire at that institution. (There are a few Americans still working there, but they were apparently grandfathered in prior to these new rules.) Moreover, that same university also refuses to hire any more teachers from GUST.
I recently interviewed at a university, which refuses to hire people who have instructed at the secondary or tertiary in Kuwait. (The reason for this was explained by whom the owner of that university was, i.e. the owner has connections with other schools.)
Worse still is the fact that rumor and innuendo have a lot to do with how people’s employment is daily being mugged from them here—in a land which barely follows half of the WTO’s rules and other international laws related to the work place.
For example, one former employee at one Gulf university shared how rumors had started to fly from the first day she arrived on campus.
She was told several bad and absolutely false things about herself that very first day—all which could not be true as the rumors claimed she had lived in Kuwait before, but she had never set foot in the country before she began to teach here.
This particular American professor revealed how sleazy these below-the-belt rumors were.
In the charged social and political climate of today, the rumor mongers control so much. In this women’s case these rumors were bounced around campus and collected by others who wanted to play political-power games with her or with her department colleagues over the coming year. She was ultra-stressed out.
Luckily, that same female professor successfully made the jump to another university that would have her. The best news is that unlike at many other schools in the regions, this new university didn’t buy into the fictional Kuwaiti wasta-rumor mill--dominating the job markets of unsuspecting incoming foreigners.
Needless to say, the very fact that that particular American professor was unmarried—likely fueled the rumors upon her arrival.
I have certainly observed the unfair rumors that often fly around foreign women in Kuwait. One female ex-pat principle of a secondary school, has noted in no uncertain terms to her colleagues, “Stop spreading gossip! You are ruining peoples lives and careers.”
In short, due to the combination of crony capitalism and the power of wasta connections, peoples lives are getting hurt or imperiled too often in the Gulf.
IS THEIR HOPE FOR IMPROVEMENT?
Before any reader charges that I am being unfair to the Kuwaiti culture, I need to state clearly that blacklisting and blackballing occurs against employees in and among Western Nations, too.
To this very day, I recall how my own last name “Stoda” got smeared in Kansas in 1991.
It was immediately after the Gulf War (or Desert Storm) and I had been against U.S. participation in it. I had had trouble with my principle in Western Kansas at the high school where I had taught because he and some parents or family members (movers and shakers possibly) didn’t like my vocal stand against blindly following the USA government into war in 1990-1991.
Subsequently, by the time I moved to Eastern Kansas the following school year, the blackballing of the “Stoda” name in Kansas had already begun.
On my first day at my new school, in a small town near Lawrence, the superintendent of school refused to shake my hand. I wondered why. “Could it have been because of something spread about me from one superintendent to another 200 miles away? What had been said or lied about me? By whom?”
Meanwhile, my own brother had completed his teaching block and certification in Kansas, too, in mid-1991.
He was a math teacher and certainly thought that he had a job sewn up in Wichita at a high school for autumn or winter 1991-1992.
Alas, it soon appeared that although my poor brother didn’t share my politics (and had actually served in the Gulf), my family’s last name was being blacklisted in and around the state of Kansas in the world of education.
NOTE: My poor brother eventually moved in Spring 1992 to teach first in California—and then in Oklahoma & in Colorado over the subsequent decade. Finally, he has returned to Kansas to teach over the past 5 years ago.
In short, even (or especially) in a right-to-work state, it is hard to get a teaching job in America if someone is spreading bad rumors or innuendos about you.
The problem is that Kuwait & the other Gulf countries are far away from the USA and Europe and legal familiarity. This means injustice and innuendos can hurt you a lot easier when you come here to work. There is less shame here publicly in terms of spreading such falsehoods about foreigners who are not connected well enough generally to protect themselves.
In the long-term perhaps Kuwait and the Gulf Arabs will open their systems to reform. Sadly, in the meantime, get ready for unfair rumors and innuendo affecting your career if you come to work or teach in the Gulf!
When & if you arrives, seek out support from Kuwaitis who don’t like the system of wasta and kinship leading to individual and national underdevelopment.
If you click on this link, you will find one such Kuwaiti, who is trying to support improving the system:
It is an article called “Thriving Dishonesty” by a Kuwaiti, Shamael Al-Sharikh, who is one of many natives concerned about Kuwaiti education--and in improving the status quo for all.
Shamael Al-Sharikh discusses in her piece on “Dishonesty” the bad educational habits I sought valiantly to get taken out of the bad educational practices at Gulf University from 2004 to 2006—and which I continue to try and see erased elsewhere by improving primary and secondary educational practices as well.NOTES
Abdullah, Sarah, “More Westerners Seek Jobs in Gulf to Beat High Living Costs” Kuwait Times, 17 May 2008, p. 2.
Al-Sharikh, Shamael, “Thriving Dishonesty”, http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=OTMyMDA2NzAz
Al-Sharikh, Shamael, “Why doesn’t Anyone want to be Prime Minister?”,
Stoda, Kevin, “Sustainability, Kuwait Society, Progress Towards Democracy, Liberal Education Sidelined Due to Intermediary Wasta” http://www.opednews.com/articles/genera_kevin_an_070711_sustainability_2c_kuwa.htm
Labels: Gulf University of Science and Technology Kuwait wast reform rumors innuendo black-balling blacklisting Kansas educational reform justice fairness Gulf jobs employment teachers