Former CNA employees suing for severance

James McLeod
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Qatari campus a hotbed of litigation

Ann Marie Vaughan — Telegram file photo

First in a three-part series

Former employees of the College of the North Atlantic in Qatar are taking the college to court because they say they’re not getting paid tens of thousands of dollars to which they’re entitled.

Of the cases that have gone through the courts thus far, judges have ordered the college to pay up every time, but CNA administration says it will keep fighting the cases until it gets a final verdict from Qatar’s top court.

Liberal education critic Andrew Parsons says he believes the situation may be serious enough that it could be the catalyst that prevents the government from renewing the “comprehensive agreement” with the state of Qatar, which would lead to the CNA campus being shut down.

“People are suing — bringing our government and the college to court — and winning every time, and the college comes out and says very bold and blunt, we don’t agree with it, we will keep fighting no matter how many cases we lose,” Parsons said.

Ken Mills and his wife, Yasmien, worked at the college for several years.

They are suing CNA for the end of service gratuity — a sum of more than $30,000.

“We were there for a very long time; we poured our heart and soul into that bloody college, you know, and now as the employees are leaving, it’s owed to us,” Ken said. “Every single employer in Qatar is responsible for paying this, as can be proven by the fact that everyone who has sued the college has won.”


Some did not want to file suit

Some current and former employees who spoke to The Telegram for this story say they declined to sue for the end of service gratuity. In some cases this was because they were hoping to receive future work with the college. In other cases it’s because they were leaving the country and were uncomfortable paying a lawyer thousands of dollars and giving them power of attorney to fight the case on their behalf.

Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Burke refused comment for this story.

Qatari law states that whenever anybody leaves a job, they are legally entitled to an “end of service gratuity” as a sort of severance, based on the rate of pay and the number of years worked.

The law was introduced in 2005, several years after the CNA Qatar campus was set up.

Ann Marie Vaughan, president of CNA, said as far as the college is concerned, the contracts for all Canadian employees working in Qatar are governed by Canadian labour laws, and therefore the employees are not entitled to the end of service gratuity.

“We’re really trying to get a resolution here, because we have two opinions,” she said.

“We have the state officials and our employment contract, which is a Canadian employment contract, and we have an interpretation of the courts that doesn’t match the legal interpretation that we’re being given, both here in the province and also with the representatives that we have in Qatar.”

Vaughan said ultimately they hope to get a decision from the  Court of Cassation, Qatar’s top court, which would set a precedent for all future cases.

In the Qatari legal system, lower courts’ decisions do not establish precedent, so despite losing all of the cases that have happened thus far, the college is continuing to fight the employees who seek the end of service gratuity.

The situation is further complicated by an extremely complex pay structure for employees at the college.

Yasmien described the situation as “tangled by design” to prevent employees from fully understanding the breakdown of their compensation.

For example, in 2008, the governing board of the CNA in Qatar approved a 12.25 per cent “cost of living allowance,” but then administrators withheld six per cent of that pay increase, to be paid out when the employee left the college.

The six per cent payment was called “End of Service Compensation” and was meant to be a substitute for the end of service gratuity.

The courts have since ruled that because employees were entitled to be paid the cost of living allowance as part of their compensation, and the end of service compensation was part of that, it wasn’t a substitute for the college’s responsibility to pay the end of service gratuity.

The complexity of the situation led to former employee Alan Luyt making a complaint to provincial ombudsman Barry Fleming.

Fleming authored a 20-page report on the situation and made a series of recommendations to the college, including an audit to determine whether Luyt had been appropriately compensated.

Fleming recommended, “That the College of the North Atlantic conduct an audit of Mr. Luyt’s salary to determine whether or not he has been receiving the full amount of his salary as per the (comprehensive agreement), his employment contract, and any increases that were ap-proved subsequent to his contract.”

Vaughan was not prepared to discuss Luyt’s case specifically, but she said everybody has been paid everything they’re entitled to.

“We have never been questioned on anything in terms of an error in calculation,” Vaughan said. “He was paid in accordance with his employment contract.”

Luyt is also suing the college in Qatar for the end of service gratuity.

He said there’s also talk of a class-action lawsuit in Canada — for up to $20 million — related to the end of service gratuity.

Vaughan argued the college is already paying employees generously and most of them are satisfied with their compensation.

The average salary at CNA Qatar is $100,000 and employees get their housing paid for, along with transportation back to Canada annually and tuition for up to two children in Qatari schools.

“We’re not trying to be bad employers here at all,” she said. “We do very well in the provision of salary and benefits to our employees who work there.”

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: CNA, CNA Qatar, Service Compensation

Geographic location: Qatar, Qatari, Canada

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Recent comments

  • shijo
    November 09, 2013 - 01:57

    very goood

  • Joe
    July 29, 2012 - 16:50

    Ken makes a good point. Your salary is irrelevant. Qatari law rules the day in Qatar. It's actually embarrassing to hear the head of CNA using such poor logic and "scolding" employees who dare to demand what is rightfully theirs. Payment of the EoSG is not negotiable, plus they admitted to owing it when they tried to hold back part of the cost-of-living-allowance to be used for paying the EoSG "in case someone decided they did have to pay"!!! How many Newfie jokes do we need before someone sorts this out? Or maybe it's time for CNA to GET OUT and hand the contract over to another party.

  • non-resident
    July 23, 2012 - 16:15

    I am a non-resident of Canada who is not entitled to CNAQ's contribution to its employees' Canada pension. The End-of-Service Gratuity as clearly stated in Qatari Labour law is the only pension money that I and my family will get from working in Qatar. Please be clear about the facts. All salaries, benefits (free housing, free annual trips home, cost of living, and end-of-service gratuities) are pay by the State of Qatar and NOT from CNA and the government of Newfoundland. CNA is twisting the facts and breaking the Qatari Law. This is very SHAMEFUL!

  • OneMan
    July 20, 2012 - 17:13

    So these people sign contracts here for 100K a year, plus free housing, private school for their kids, and a trip home every year... Then they go over there and sue for even more in a foreign court because of a foreign law? There's only one word for that.

  • Jay Person
    July 20, 2012 - 16:23

    I enjoy comparing the public reaction to this story and to the story earlier this week about workers in Long Harbour. It's funny how people will stick up for semi-retired baby boomers fattening their nest egg, but gives the gears to workers arguing about similarly tangly contracts issues. And don't give me that "poured our hearts and souls" malarkey. I've never heard any CNA employee say a single good thing about Qatar, its people, or their experience working there...

  • Mike
    July 20, 2012 - 16:19

    There is not enough information in the article. Where are they suing? Under what law? Why is the college opposing? More info please .

  • Doing the Math
    July 20, 2012 - 15:56

    The $100,000 average salary is inaccurate. With faculty capped at around $94,000, professional support in the mid 70s, and regular support in the low 60s, this number would imply that the local hires and management are making astronomically high salaries to increase to such an average. Even higher when you consider the figures given are just the cap and many work below the cap. If the ruling is that we are under the rules of Qatar, pay the money. If we are under the rules of Canada, apply this consistently. We are sometimes under Qatar, sometimes under Canada, depending on the situation. This is doubly frustrating.

  • Alec C
    July 20, 2012 - 15:44

    $30 million class action lawsuit - every case V CNA has been won thus far - waiting for the highest court to rule - Stating this will set president for the future cases (not in Qatar's legal system) How is Anna Marie still employed and whom does CNA get their legal advice from, Sal from Breaking Bad? Delaying settlement is only giving CNA a bad reputation oversees - where is our governments stance on this issue?

  • God guard thee Newfoundland
    July 20, 2012 - 13:50

    Ann Marie Vaughan, president of CNA, said as far as the college is concerned, the contracts for all Canadian employees working in Qatar are governed by Canadian labour laws, and therefore the employees are not entitled to the end of service gratuity. OK Ms. Vaughan lets hire all immigrants from India, Nepal, Philippines and get them to sign contracts from their own countries and send them to Canada. Does that mean we don't have to follow the Labour code in Canada, minimum wage laws etc. We can now pay them $1.50 an hour and it's right. Great comment Ms. wonder it's known as the "College of the Lost in the Atlantic"

  • Peter McBreairty
    July 20, 2012 - 13:15

    The payment of End of Service Gratuity (EoSG) is a long established practice in the Gulf region. It was a required payment under Qatar’s labour laws prior to the establishment of the Qatar 2005 Labour Law. However the 2005 Labour Law strengthened and reinforced the requirement. CNA and/or the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE) who assisted the college in finalizing the Comprehensive Agreement, apparently did not do their homework with regard to this matter. Employees were aware of the EoSG legal requirement as early as July 2002. When the then President was advised by employees of this requirement, she simply said to the effect, “We didn’t know.” CNA has apparently chosen to remain uninformed ever since. As events unfolded, CNA instituted various schemes to avoid paying the employees. But as stated in the article, every employee who has sued the college has done so successfully. One of CNA’s schemes is documented in an on-line report: College of the North Atlantic – Review of Overbilling of Qatar Contract Employee Payroll – September 1, 2005 to March 31, 2012 at page 8 [ ] The Comprehensive Agreement which is the contract between the College and the state of Qatar stipulates at article 12.4 “Compliance with Law – The contractor and its employees shall comply with all applicable laws and regulations of the State of Qatar in the performance of this Agreement, and shall respect the cultural, religious and social customs of Qatar.” Article 12.5 states, “Governing Law - This Agreement shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of the State of Qatar.” From the very start of the CNA operation in Qatar, the contractor (CNA) was required to comply with Qatar’s labour laws. While the employees contracts are governed by the laws of our province, our contracts also require that that employees abide by all applicable Qatar law. Qatar law is clear in the matter of paying the EoSG. The College has made it clear in recent employee’s individual contracts that if the employee does not follow local Qatari law or custom, then the employee can be disciplined even to the point of dismissal. In fact the College has even extended that obligation to the employee’s family members at Qatar; if an employee’s family member violates local law or customs the employee can be terminated. Why then does the College place the obligation to follow Qatari law on the employee, yet as an organization, refuse to follow the law in the matter of EoSG. Maybe it’s time for CNA to lead by example.

  • Ken Mills
    July 20, 2012 - 10:40

    "Vaughan argued the college is already paying employees generously and most of them are satisfied with their compensation." Seriously? What does this have to do with anything? The point here is that IT IS QATARI LAW that all employees receive this benefit. Employee salaries are irreverent to this entire situation. This is just a way to try to take ficus away from the actual issue.

    • Paul
      July 20, 2012 - 14:02

      I notice too that the article states "the average salary of cna employees is $100,000." Not sure if that was Ms. Vaughn who said this, but this is absolutely false, given that most people with Masters degrees (or higher) are capped at 96,000.

    • Paul
      July 20, 2012 - 14:06

      I notice too that the article states "the average salary of cna employees is $100,000." Not sure if that was Ms. Vaughn who said this, but this is absolutely false, given that most people with Masters degrees (or higher) are capped at 96,000.

    • Reader
      July 20, 2012 - 14:15

      The quote is actually "The average salary at CNA Qatar is $100,000..." not "the average salary of cna employees is $100,000.". Please finish reading the story before you comment.

    • CNAQ Employee
      July 20, 2012 - 14:31

      The average salary of CNAQ employees is far less than 100k. In fact 100k if the absolute maximum after many years of experience and the highest level of education. If you consider that you have to move to the Middle East with all of its turmoil, cultural differences, etc. the average salary from scale which is more like 75k is well justified. regardless, this does not give the College reason to siphon money from the employees fringe benefits to increase their own take from the project. This is simply an attempt to get the discussion off the real issue. None of the college executive have ever met with us to discuss these issues. They come to Qatar, hide out for in the sun for a few days and quickly jump back on the plane to go back to NL. Tick off the box, we have been working hard in Qatar - not!

  • Wally Smith
    July 20, 2012 - 09:58

    The sad part of this is that the College is paid 25% of every employees salary to cover the cost of fringe benefits. They have chosen to take most of this money as proceeds from the project rather than use it for its intended purpose - employee benefits. Essentially they are trying to use the contract to strip the employees of monies they are rightfully entitled to. The State of Qatar has been very generous with money for the project but the college has been playing fast and loose like this since the beginning. Imagine if a company came to NL, setup shop and decided they were not subject to NL labor law. They would be kicked out of court. We would never permit it. Why should it be any different for the employees in Qatar. Just because they are not in NL the College has decided they can get away with keeping their severance payment and pocketing the money. This would never happen in Canada, why should they be allowed to do it in Qatar? Ridiculous!