When in Rome ...

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There's a popular definition of madness that goes like this: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."It is credited to Albert Einstein, and in its own way, follows the same path as the colloquial expression "stop banging your head against a brick wall."

Then, think for a moment about the College of the North Atlantic's (CNA) Qatar campus as the head, and the Qatari courts as the brick wall.

Right now, the college is involved in a steady stream of lawsuits by former staff.

Under Qatari law, employees are required to receive an end-of-employment gratuity - essentially a form of severance based on their rate of salary and their time in their positions - when their employment ends.

The college says such gratuities are not part of their contract with employees, and has refused to pay the money.

Former CNA staff in Qatar have sued the college over the issue and the employees have won - every single time.

Yet the college is continuing the fight, and plans to take it to Qatar's highest court. Employees, meanwhile, are talking about the possibility of a class-action suit in the $20-million range.

While both sides have a right to defend their positions, you have to wonder if CNA isn't on the verge of finding itself in the realm of throwing good money after bad by continuing its legal battle.

Why? Because the debate is essentially about whether a Qatari court should recognize a Qatari law that applies to all employees in Qatar. It has the unfortunate situation, for CNA, of looking like game, set and match for the employees, regardless of the intent of the original contract.

Here's an interesting comparison: say you ran a subsidiary of your company in this province, employing a number of people from your own country to process fish. Say that you and your employees were from Mali, and that, under their contract, they had agreed to be bound by Malian law, and paid, say, a dollar a day for processing fish in a Newfoundland plant. Would the Newfoundland government accept that the contract was legal and binding, and accept that it naturally superceded Newfoundland's own labour law setting out rules for minimum wage and working conditions? It's extremely unlikely.

The college may be absolutely right: it may have legal contracts with its employees that spell out what each side can expect from the terms of employment - and that might normally be all the college needed, at least for employees operating in this country.

The critical disconnect might well be that the college may have forgotten that, "In Rome, do as the Romans do." Or, as Dorothy once famously said in "The Wizard of Oz", "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

Maybe even another Einstein quote would be appropriate.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

Or we can just do the same darned thing, over and over and over again.

Organizations: CNA

Geographic location: Qatar, Qatari, Rome Newfoundland Mali Kansas

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Recent comments

  • Brad Cabana
    July 21, 2012 - 09:43

    What you miss here is the staff at CNA were awarded a 12.5% cost of living raise due to the expense of living there. The PC government then gave them 6% and held back the rest as their "severance" payment,which is required under Qatar law. In effect, the government is trying to "cheap out" and use a cost of living raise, take it from the employee, and use it to satisfy local legal requirements. They have lost every challenge in Qatar Court, yet continue to try and justify their immoral conduct. Classless.