Teacher pay freezes to end at some UAE schools

Many schools in the country were not able to increase staff salaries during the Covid-19 pandemic

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Improved enrolments and an acknowledgement that schools need to retain staff are two key factors that have led several schools in the Emirates to announce plans to remove pay freezes introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

From next year, some teachers will receive pay increases and incremental raises that were put on hold.

Education analysts said many schools in the Emirates were unable to increase salaries for staff during the first year of the pandemic after enrolments took a hit.

The UAE's handling of the pandemic has led to a sharp increase in people relocating to the country during the summer, boosting school numbers across the country, but particularly in Dubai.

Taaleem, one of Dubai’s largest school groups, runs 17 schools in the UAE and announced it would remove the freeze on teachers' salaries in September 2022.

A pay freeze had been introduced in March 2020.

It is now time to recognise and reward staff for the difficulties that they struggled with and show our sincere appreciation
Alan Williamson, chief executive of Taaleem

"We are one of the first education providers within the UAE to announce that we are removing pay freezes for current staff," said Kate Fisher, head of human resources at Taaleem.

“Many education providers announced a pay freeze during the pandemic and we have officially announced that we will be lifting the pay freeze in September 2022.

“We never reduced any salaries during Covid-19. We have an incremental pay increase every year and are reinstating these increments in September for all staff.”

Taaleem employs 1,200 teachers in the country.

"The UAE economy is showing rapid signs of recovery," said Alan Williamson, chief executive of Taaleem.

"It is now time to recognise and reward staff for the difficulties that they struggled with and show our sincere appreciation for the effort, empathy and enterprise they showed towards the pupils and parents in their schools.

"The quality of a school never exceeds the quality of its staff and in a time of renewed confidence in the market, ambitious expansion plans and a drive to recruit and retain world class staff, it is imperative that we return, from September 2022 to annual increments that reward experience and expertise.

"All staff across our 17 owned and managed schools will benefit from this return to normality. We hope that other schools and groups will be inspired by our lead."

Jeff Evans, principal at Global English School in Al Ain and former director of Learning Key Education Consultancy in the UAE, said teachers' salaries in the Emirates had now started to return to normal.

"It has only just started to stabilise. I would not say yet that it is recovering but we are on the road to a return to normality,” he said.

His school temporarily cut staff salaries by 25 per cent during the pandemic but a pay freeze is no longer in place, he said.

"Salaries were reduced for six months after the start of Covid-19 and restored in September 2020,” he said.

"There is a small performance-related increment under discussion for January 2022.”

Mr Evans said the pandemic had a big effect on enrolments, particularly at schools that charge high fees.

"I don’t think many schools increased the package in the last two years because obviously the pandemic affected enrolments," he said.

"It certainly increased competition with parents looking for more affordable schools.

"That’s definitely a trend that affected the premium-fee schools, particularly as they had intensified competition."

More than four in 10 parents of pupils at private schools in Dubai pay less than Dh18,000 ($4,900) in fees every year, a report published by the regulator of schools in the emirate found this month.

Mr Evans said some schools did not cut teachers' salaries because staff were working harder while classes were held online, with teachers having to adapt quickly to new technology and communicate with parents out of hours.

Private schools in Dubai did not increase fees for the 2021-22 academic year, the second consecutive year that fees remained steady.

Beno Kurien, principal at International Indian School Abu Dhabi, said it was able to give some teachers pay rises last year.

Teachers who were up for appraisals were able to enjoy increases of between 10 and 15 per cent, based on their performance. Teachers' salaries were not reduced, he said.

Fiona McKenzie, head of education at Carfax Education, an international education consultancy in the UAE, said schools were "very aware of the value of retaining staff who are familiar with the local context and reviewing the salary structure is part of an ongoing programme to attract and retain the best teachers".

Updated: November 15, 2021, 3:01 PM