Province mum on CNA-Qatar contract

Employees in the dark as deadline looms

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on January 15, 2013
Andrew Parsons

In less than six months, if the government doesn’t sign a new agreement with Qatar hundreds of employees at the College of the North Atlantic campus there could be out of work.

Nobody really knows what’s going on, but employees — many from this province — are getting worried.

“As of July 2nd everyone is out of work and out of the country,” said one employee, who spoke to The Telegram via email on the condition of anonymity. “The Canadians have to arrange to move their lives home and find new work before then. This is significant. You cannot find a new job in Canada and move countries on a day’s notice.  Employees here are very upset.”

Since 2002, the College of the North Atlantic has operated a campus in Qatar; the provincial government gets paid by Qatar for running the school.

The school was originally set up under a 10-year “comprehensive agreement” between Qatar and Newfoundland and Labrador.

That agreement expired last year, but the governments signed a one-year extension, which expires on Aug. 31.

But for the employees who work at the college’s Middle East campus, the school year ends on July 2nd, and if there’s no new agreement signed, they’re done.

Neither Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Shea nor the college had much to say on the subject.

A spokesman for Shea said she would not comment on the situation.

In an emailed statement, CNA president Ann Marie Vaughan said she can’t talk about the situation while negotiations are happening.

“Discussions are ongoing with the State of Qatar, we are optimistic that we will be able to report soon. As we are at a sensitive stage in these discussions we prefer not to comment further.”

But Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said the lack of answers really leaves college employees hanging.

“Regardless of which way it’s going, the people that are directly affected by it, employees and family, I think they have a right to know where this stands,” he said.

Parsons has been vocal on the issues surrounding the CNA Qatar campus. He said he’s convinced that it’s a good project, and he wants to see the comprehensive agreement renewed, but he also thinks that the government has managed it poorly.

“One of the concerns is that there are a lot of people that are over there that are saying, ‘Look, where am I going to be next year? What am I going to do?’” Parsons said. “Obviously not everybody is going to just sit back and wait and have the rug pulled out at the last minute.

“Some of these people might already be planning exit strategies, which can’t be good for any organization.”

The CNA-Qatar campus is one of the largest post-secondary institutions in Qatar, and proponents argue that it has had major benefits for the province.

But there have also been financial management issues; bureaucratic confusion led to a mistake that cost Newfoundland and Labrador taxpayers $5 million in overpayments to college employees.

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames