Last in a three-part series
After a decade in Qatar, current and former workers at the College of the North Atlantic’s campus in the Middle East are worried about the future.
In just over a year, the overarching comprehensive agreement between Newfoundland and Lab-rador and Qatar will expire, and if it isn’t renewed, the CNA campus there will shut down.
Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Burke refused to do an interview with The Telegram for this story. A spokeswoman said that it would be inappropriate for her to speak about contract negotiations in progress.
“Contract negotiations are currently ongoing between College of the North Atlantic and state representatives in Qatar,” the statement from Burke said.
“It is our hope that these negotiations will result in a contract that provides benefits to the people of Qatar through the college and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Liberal education critic Andrew Parsons has been looking into the situation in Qatar for months now, and raised a number of issues in the House of Assembly this spring.
Parsons said employees from the college have been getting in touch, because many of them are worried that the campus will shut down in a year and they’ll be out of a job.
“In the last little while, this government hasn’t exactly been known for its timeliness, and a year is not a lot of time when it comes to a process of this nature,” Parsons said. “We are dealing with the government of Qatar, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador; you’ve got that distance there.
“A year is not actually a lot when you get into a process like this.”
In the past several years, the college has been plagued with management problems and low morale. Employees complain about a “toxic” work environment and at one time, a “dictatorial” senior management.
Moreover, CNA-Qatar has been sued by 10 employees for severance they say they’re owed under Qatari law. In all of the cases that have made it through the courts, judges have sided with the employees and awarded them judgments.
The provision providing for an “end of service gratuity” was brought into law by the Qatari government in 2005, several years after the comprehensive agreement was signed.
Since there is no provision in the comprehensive agreement as to whether CNA or the Qatari government should pay the end of service gratuity, that will likely be one of the issues that needs to be settled before a new agreement is signed.
Parsons said he worries that the end of service gratuity will be the poison pill that foils negotiations.
“Beyond the numbers, my concern is that it’s going to be bad enough to ruin the entire project,” Parsons said.
“There are strains in the relationship as far as I can tell.”
But Ann Marie Vaughan, president of CNA, said virtually everyone speculating about the agreement doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
“I would totally admit that there are gaps in some of our policies and processes and we’re working diligently on identifying what they need to be and what needs to be put in place from a structural perspective as we move forward,” Vaughan said.
“Anyone who’s speculating otherwise, it’s pure speculation on their part.
“They’re not involved in the discussions.”
A worthwhile endeavour
Despite the problems in Qatar, virtually everybody The Telegram spoke to agreed that the agreement should be renewed.
The Qatar campus doesn’t cost taxpayers anything; in fact, CNA gets paid a management fee of several million dollars every year to run the campus.
Moreover, Vaughan said it’s valuable for the college to have a prominent presence in an important part of the world.
“We were the first institution to allow males and females to study together. We are truly impacting social change and we’re working with the state to accomplish that,” she said.
“You have to really visualize what’s happening there to understand it. It’s a 22-building complex and we’re offering 24 programs.”
The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held in Qatar, and Vaughan said the state is planning to invest $110 billion in it, including all sorts of training for tourism, security and project management positions.
Vaughan said she believes CNA-Qatar will have a role in that.
Parsons was critical of how the government and college administration has run the program thus far, but he agreed that it’s a good project for the government to be involved in.
He said he hopes the government resolves the management and employee morale problems, and works past the end of service gratuity issue.
“That has tangible benefits to us,” Parsons said.
“You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here; we have a great thing going.”