Workplace described as despotic

James McLeod
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Things have improved since 2010, though issues remain

Ann Marie Vaughan

Second in a three-part series

When current and former employees talk about working at the College of the North Atlantic in Qatar, they often use words like "toxic" and "dictatorship."

Numerous interviews with current and former employees and documents obtained by The Telegram reveal a landscape of favouritism, dysfunctional management and low morale among the Newfoundlanders, Labradorians and other Canadians working at CNA in Qatar.

In a 2010 workplace assessment report, 83 per cent of people interviewed reported low morale. The report detailed employees' complaints of "backstabbing and gossip" along with "being lied to" and "extreme micromanagement."

According to the assessment, employees were promised that "all personnel interviewed will receive an unedited report of the findings of the assessment which will be distributed by Hill Advisory Services" - the company that did the report.

However, when Hill Advisory Services delivered its 24-page document to the college, it was edited down to a 12-page version before being distributed.

CNA president Ann Marie Vaughan said the college took the report seriously, and in the past two years things have gotten much better.

"We hired a respectful workplace co-ordinator and a respectful workplace policy was implemented," she said.

"All of the employees identified in the report are no longer employed at CNA-Q and the entire CNA executive team has changed in the last four years. What we do know is that we have an 85 per cent signing rate of those that take subsequent contracts."

Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Burke, who is responsible for CNA and the Qatar project, refused to speak to The Telegram for this article.

The college has yet to respond on certain key points of the Hill Advisory Services report.

All employees who work for the college in Qatar are hired on contracts - generally for three-year periods. A consistent complaint from employees was that anybody seen to be speaking out or critical of the college would effectively be let go, by way of not having their contract renewed.

"If you are critical, you will get picked off," one current CNA employee said, speaking to The Telegram on the condition of anonymity.

"You simply won't be offered another contract."

Hill Advisory recommended that "a contract renewal process needs to be developed with the appropriate stakeholders so that staff know where they stand in this regard."

Two years after the report was done, a formal contract renewal process still has not been developed, Vaughan said.

"I will say to you that our processes, in my opinion, are not robust enough and it is a piece of work that we are currently working on in terms of how we would move forward," she said.

"It's my understanding that it comes from the recommendations of deans and who is interested in re-signing, and so it moves forward from that."

The employee acknowledged that things have "vastly improved" since 2010 when morale was at its lowest ebb. Since then, senior management has changed.

However, the problems have not gone away completely.

"Most of the bad guys at the top level are gone," the employee said. "The main weeds were plucked out of the garden, but there are lots of little weeds still there."

Some instructors working in Qatar report positive work conditions, especially in terms of the in-class work environment, the facilities and the pay.

Issues at the college were raised several times by Liberal education critic Andrew Parsons in the House of Assembly, and he said he's had complaints from at least 14 people working in Qatar.

"It's all complicated by the fact that we have people from Canada that are living over in that part of the world - it's a big adjustment as it is," Parsons said.

"They're over there and then they don't feel that they're being treated with respect. They feel that there's a lot of interference coming from up above; then tie in the fact that they don't feel they're being paid what they're supposed to be given.

"It just festers."

The management issues are in addition to a series of lawsuits by employees who say they are not being paid severance that they are legally entitled to under Qatari law. Despite the fact that the college has lost every case thus far, CNA has been fighting them in court, saying it is not money they are obliged to pay.

All of this comes against the backdrop of the overarching comprehensive agreement between Newfoundland and Labrador and Qatar, which will expire in one year. Twitter: TelegramJames

Monday: uncertain future


Organizations: CNA, Hill Advisory Services

Geographic location: Qatar, Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • Bill
    August 16, 2012 - 08:38

    I have good and bad things to say about CNAQ. I guess the same applies about and place of employment. On a positive note… The facilities and equipment are first rate. The instructors are well qualified. The salary and benefits are very attractive (especially for a pensioner). The opportunities for travel in an interesting part of the world are numerous. Newfoundlanders have preference for jobs. On a less than positive note….. The Qataris want students to graduate with a world class credential, don’t want to earn it, most do not earn one, yet they pressure the CNAQ administration to advertise the institution’s success in every way imaginable! CNAQ points to numerous credit transfer arrangements with other institutions throughout the world, yet if you scratch below the surface, you realize the agreements are a farce. Worse yet, the language of instruction is English; however, many students (about half) graduate with insufficient language skills to enter a typical Western institution, including CNA. Of those who may qualify to enter a Western institution, most entered with a firm grasp of English in the first place. The Qatari’s resent any type of criticism and will “give the word” to the administration to remove anyone who voices the slightest complaint. The atmosphere is stifled. The only people who could possibly live or work there have no concept of free speech on any issue, academically related or otherwise, and will readily back stab anyone. To see a long term employee of CNAQ is to see a person who values little of the principles that shaped Canada. Getting in a disagreement can have dire consequences. So called “car accidents” are frequent. Being openly gay can get you placed in a car and burned alive. CNAQ bungled the comprehensive agreement by not costing the end of service gratuity required under Qatari law. As a result it owes most of its profits to its employees. The province could end up footing the bill. I expect that the province will nevertheless seek to renew the existing arrangements because no one really cares. It has been a great source of adventure travel for a lot of Newfoundlanders and employs a lot of people. On signing, the premier will probably perform the consummate insult to us all by pointing to the fact that Qataris have coeducational classes – a first for this Muslim country. If you scratch beneath the surface, however, you realize that the only people happy with the arrangement are students (the majority) from many nearby countries that take co-educational classes for granted. The Qataris, on the other hand, deeply resent the arrangement; many are opting for the new Qatar Community College which features gender segregation. O well…

  • Anna Paccione
    July 25, 2012 - 21:58

    I just honoured my three-year contract at CNA-Q. All in all, it was a rewarding experience. I had never, in the three years at CNA-Q had any problems with students, well, save for one, but he was a special case and there are special cases everywhere. I also never had any problems with any of the instructors. And I never had any problems with any of the folks in administration, nor human resources, except for one. I didn't really have any problem with her but she was very tyrant-like....moving right along... I'm a smoker so I would sit on the bench, outside building 9. I've met the nicest people, sitting there. For the most part, we always laughed. The only time morale was low was when instructors couldn't get answers to some of their important questions answered and to be honest, it had nothing to do with CNA-Q. It had to do with the College of the North Atlantic in Newfoundland. What in God's name is going on there? It's so frustrating, I could now feel the weight of my fingers on my keyboard as I type this!!!! Over a month ago, I asked for my salary breakdown and until this day I have not received any reply. It is absolutely amazing!!!!!!! CNA-Q is NOT the problem. Every time I needed answers from Ken (my President) I got them. Every time I needed answers from Jason (my Dean) I got them. Every time I needed answers from Sandy (HR) I got them. Eleanor, Jane, Charlie were always there whenever I needed anything!!!! But every time I needed answers from Newfoundland, Holy Mary on a Harley...unbelievable!!!!!!! Anyways, the reason why I'm asking for a salary breakdown is because I got my hands on a copy of the Comprehensive Agreement and based on what I read and understood, (or maybe I didn't understand, and that's why I am asking for clarification) I believe my total compensation should have been higher. I understand the MFB (management fee base) which is also known as our base salary but it's the rest that leaves me with wanting clarification. My last conversation with the lovely lady in charge left me feeling very positive. She told me that she has everything in an email and ready to be sent out to me but she needed another set of eyes (her supervisor) to look at the breakdown. Unfortunately, he was in a meeting so she had to wait. THAT WAS OVER TWO WEEKS AGO! I'm sorry...that is totally unacceptable. I teach at Concordia University in Montreal and I could tell you one thing for sure, this kind of crap would not happen and would not be tolerated, nor accepted...THIS I KNOW FOR SURE! I know a lot of instructors don't speak out because they fear they will lose their job or not get rehired. I'm not sure I understand this but it's not my place to understand. Would I go back and teach at CNA-Q? I was given the opportunity to return to teach at CNA-Q by both my President and my Dean. For now, I had to resume my position at Concordia University. We'll see how I feel once the first snowfall comes around. I hope all these issues get resolved and that the State of Qatar will sign another Comprehensive Agreement. Thank you, Anna

  • dcprime
    July 23, 2012 - 06:16

    Most of the first-hand complaints in this article come from "one current CNA employee". How do we know that this entire article is not simply a soapbox from which one disgruntled employee is being given the chance to air grievances? You would be hard-pressed to find ANY organization in the world where a certain percentage of employees did not complain regularly about management.

  • unhappy cna
    July 22, 2012 - 21:23

    I am an unhappy CNA employee. What an insult for the president of CNA to publicly say that layoffs in NL campuses were program related. Prince Philip Drive Campus has 2000 students and laid off a custodial worker now what does that have to do with program offerings. An electrican laid off when there is a major electrical project taking place. Two computer support jobs are gone again not program related. This week I hear there are 7 more jobs gone. Moral is very low and people are fearful of their jobs that's the result of good leadership.

  • Concerned Citizen
    July 22, 2012 - 11:49

    Mr. McLeod should come and take a good hard look at the NL Legal Aid Commission. Substitute "Legal Aid St. John's" for "CNA Qatar", and you get the exactly same picture: • iron, doctorial, greedy hand • office is ran via reprisal, favoritism, and bullying • high amount of interference and micromanagement from senior executives • staff morale extremely low • quality of client service suffers I hope somebody, preferably the Minister of Justice, receives this message, “grabs the bully by the horn”, and straightens out the place.

  • Look at Home
    July 22, 2012 - 08:56

    That list of problems? Try looking in this province at certain Commissions and Agencies. No different.

  • Harry
    July 22, 2012 - 08:21

    After spending 35 years in the field of education working in professional environments, I taught at the College of The North Atlantic - Qatar for three years. For the most part , my experiences exciting and rewarding. The students attempted to learn despite their culutural bias with respect to pedagogy. My colleagues were interesting and our interactions were rewarding. The overall morale was low for the three years, due in large part to the administration. The vice president academic (since retired) administered in a dictatorial fashion based on friendships and critics were either ignored or reprimanded. The Dean of Academics lacks the personnel skills to administer a large department. A short or long course in public relations would be appropriate. With exceptions, the administration lacked the competence and experience to run a large institution such as CNA -Q. My experience was based on the 2007 - 10 period. Hopefully things have improved since that time. This is doubtful if your article and comments above are valid.

  • Ron
    July 22, 2012 - 07:37

    This story is entirely based on hearsay. Too bad the Telegram has degenerated into a junk tabloid. Get serious journalists not sensationalist ambulance chasers.

  • KR
    July 22, 2012 - 00:14

    To all the people that get the top jobs, how did you get them? I have seen managers that don't know what to do or just don't want to do anything. They don't know half their staff. They don't talk to staff. It amazes me.

  • Qatarted
    July 21, 2012 - 22:13

    Alot of these problems started when former Premier Tobin deceided to de-centralize govt departments. this caused alot of senior officials to refuse to go to Stephenville. What happened was that underqualified people took senior positions and then packed up their bags and headed to Qatar in leadership positions ( lack of leadership) With there poor leadership skills and inablity to run an organization she would dictate to people with fear mongering as they do in the Arab world. If you look at recent articles inThe New York post you will see that Qatar is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. This is a perfect breeding ground for insecure leaders to succeed. So remains the Qatar project office as having poor leadership abilities and in desperate need of humans in the Human resource department. Let the whole project sink so Newfoundland doesn't end up in the New York Times in bad publicity. Enough is enough

  • Abdulatif Smith
    July 21, 2012 - 21:23

    I was one of the managers at the time this report came out. Only one person was identified in our interviews and CNA did absolutely nothing about her. They like you to believe here that they have changed things. The reality was that we were led in a meeting with the deputy minister and the VP for the project to believe that she would be dealt with i.e. removed. She stayed in her position for the entire next year and continued to torment the Dean of business and the registrar throughout the year. Rather than do anything, CNA left her to finish her contract and completely took her side while abandoning us. The report told them just how we were treated and harassed. They did a presentation of the things they were going to change as part of the response to the edited i.e. sterilized report. Not one of those things happened. They abandoned us - and now we never see them as they visit Qatar secretly and get out as fast as they can.

  • My two cents
    July 21, 2012 - 19:10

    It would be interesting to do this kind of report for the College here in the province. I have worked at the college in the past and still have many friends there. The people in general are great at the working level and in some cases management are pretty good too. However, there is way too much micromanaging from a very high level flowing down. By people who really don't understand the work that is going on. Then as a result - combine that with unrealistic expectations, under appreciated employees and lack of respect for union laws. The past number of years it seems the administration is getting away with more and more and taking the my way or the highway approach. It doesn't matter how good you are or how long you've been there. They'll make your life miserable and force you out one way or another. I would be interested in knowing amount of money being spent on grievences. It suspect it may be much more that people think simply because the higher levels are disrespectful and not playing by the rules!! Not the best way to spend the tax payer's money!!

  • Stevie Nicks
    July 21, 2012 - 15:52

    I worked in Qatar along with my wife for several years. The group of people who took part in the workplace assessment were actually the managers and leaders at the Qatar Campus. We all shared freely our thoughts regarding the workplace at the campus with the written committment that we would recieve an unedited version of the report. CNA never released either copy of the report but the edited version leaked out and was distributed.. I hear the original one was very specific and directed specific responsibility on the interim president. During the interviews we were all very concerned with two things. First was the harassing and scheming leadership of the interim president at the time and the second was the seeming endless ability of the parent college in Newfoundland to ignore her backscratching relationship with the Qatar Vice Chair who was runnning things from the Qatar side. It was obvious that as soon as she got in power that the interim president mounted a significant personal attack on the other two VP's, both who suffered greatly under her. In Qatar the normal protections for employees were thrown out the window as careers were routinely sabotaged by the interim president. CNA stood idly by and counted the money from the project just as they still do today. I don't know what happened to the two VP's but they certainly were battered and bruised just as many were before them. I heard one of the VP's tried to get support from CNA but was then himself fired for speaking out. This behaviour was noted in the Workplace Assessment but CNA did absolutely NOTHING to protect employees and continues to do absolutely NOTHING still today. I just thank god that we retired before she could turn the guns on us! Any success at the college is due to the hard work of the employees in Qatar and in spite of the dire mismanagement of the Campus by CNA.

  • So What
    July 21, 2012 - 13:01

    There is an editorial today "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" when it comes to serverance pay. Should apply to this too. No changes needed.

  • starr
    July 21, 2012 - 10:16

    I worked temporarily at CNA-Q but its obvious my job was earmarked for the spouse of another higher-level employee. As one of my friends stated, the enviornment at CNAQ is "politically incestuous". But at least CNAQ employees have a Canadian alternative to appeal to. Check out QCS. Run by Qatar government but connected to CNAQ in that the female in charge there runs that also - with an iron, dictatorial, greedy hand. Their pay is extremely low. At least CNAQ employees get a salary worth going overseas for, QCS employees do not.

    • Jack
      July 21, 2012 - 16:01

      Starr, if you thought that instructors and staff in Canadian controlled Qatari colleges are not paid well, look at the compensation levels of Newfoundland and Labrador's two largest private career colleges, Keyin College and Academy Canada, in comparison to CNA and MUN. Because Academy Canada and Keyin College receives no provincial government funding and subsidies, and their budgets are substantially smaller than CNA and MUN, their staff members and instructors are paid very low, often at an equivalent 40% - 60% of a CNA/MUN salary, or in some cases, even close to minimum wage. This big compensation gap is especially problematic for their skilled staff members like Accountants, Network Technicians, and even their Webmasters. In the case of Academy Canada, although their staff are treated very well, the salary levels are so low in comparison to CNA and MUN that they constantly lose hard working staff members and even some instructors. As long as this great college doesn't address this issue and put their salaries in line with CNA/MUN, which might be easier said than done, staff and instructor turnover problems will continue.

  • Jack
    July 21, 2012 - 10:10

    That's what happens when you do business in Arab World countries like Qatar. Since most Arab world countries are over-protective towards their culture, especially nations on the Arabian Peninsula, conservative, authoritarian, hierarchial, and traditional, you cannot question authority or its leadership even when they are wrong its considered taboo. The second problem at CNA seems to be a leadership with poor management skills, especially from Anne Marie Vaughan. For example, under Anne Marie's leadership, CNA has recently cut numerous programs, particularly in-demand ones like the Comprehensive Arts and Sciences and Adult Basic Education programs, a no-no considering that they are competing against Keyin College and Academy Canada's Corner Brook and Kenmount Road Campuses whom provide similar programs with continuous intakes. This problem is not just limited to CNA, its also happening with other major colleges across the province. Academy Canada, the province's largest private career college, could be next to face similar problems as their employees work very hard and treated well, but they are paid well below their CNA counterparts at less than 60% of CNA salary, and in some cases, paid close to minimum wage even for staff with high education and skill levels.

  • Joe
    July 21, 2012 - 08:44

    I used to work ay CNA (not in Qatar) and can tell you from first hand experience the high amount of interference from the college's senior executive both in Newfoundland and Qatar. Culturally, it is very well known that it is not acceptable to fail any student in Qatar, so you produce inferior technologists who do not really have a clue. Additionally, the Qatar campus is well known to harbor employees who were not working out in Newfoundland, either at the college or in the ranks of the public service. So, you cannot fail students who do not perform to a standard, you are pushed around by senior college administraters, and you have a portion of the staff who really are not up to the job but got moved there from administration or political convenience. The Qatari contract is worth over $500 million to the college. They may have blown it and the blame falls to senior executive and the dept. of Skills and post secondary education.

  • Carol Ann Rogers
    July 21, 2012 - 08:28

    This is a college... if you cannot expect integrity and respect from the staff in positions of authority at a college its time to give up. These are the types of management issues that led to the the term "going postal", the American postal service had exactly the same management problems, studies were done and a toxic workplace was identified only after several people had mental breakdowns. Ms Vaughan needs to grab the "bully" by the horn and straighten them out. Harrasment in any country is still harassment. Quatar should be gratefull they have the opportunity to gain from excellant instructors.

  • Dory Man
    July 21, 2012 - 08:28

    Former President Jean Madill tried to handle these issues in Qatar. For her efforts she was kicked out of the college. Why was this report edited down to 12 pages if it was actually delivered as 24 pages? Sounds like a coverup to me!

  • Qatar girl
    July 21, 2012 - 08:24

    Actually I was there in the college at the time this assessment was done. The report was never distributed and the college was never going to release it though a commitment was clearly made to do so. The College took every possible action to try to bury this report. Since this time good people have been punished but the real source of problems still remains. The Qatar campus and its 700 employees is now ruled by a small group of employees in the Qatar project office in Stephenville. From their isolated bubble decisions are regularly made that affect the employees 7,000 miles away. The micromanaging is clearly out of control and even the President in Qatar dismisses any personal involvement or responsibility by saying that all issues are above the line and out of his control. Its like a scene from the movie 1994 where nameless faceless people somewhere in NL send off directives and arbitrary decisions from above .

  • DictatorErnie
    July 21, 2012 - 08:03

    If one subbed-out all references to CNA and ingore the fact that it's in the middle east and sub-in The Office of the High Sheriff NL in this article, they would have a very accurate image of the landscape in this Government Dept. too! I have a family member who works there and the Sheriff's Office is ran via fear of reprisal, bullying, intimidation and harrassment! Possibly one of thee most toxic departments in Government. Management/Leadership and some supervisors at the Sheriff's actually have told officers that their "Jobs" come before "Family", the operations and expectations are antiquated and poethetic! and are embossed from the top down. Perhaps the reporter Mr.McLeod should delve into the workings and atmosphere of this Government Dept. too....