AL AIN // Education officials who came to a meeting yesterday expecting complaints about housing, visas, health insurance and salaries from 650 newly arrived teachers left to cheers and applause. The teachers, all based in the Al Ain area, asked for the meeting with officials from the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) after many complained that they had not been housed, paid or provided with medical insurance since their arrival two months ago. They are part of a group of 940 new teachers across the emirate.
Yesterday's meeting at the InterContinental Hotel ended with Adec officials handing out apartment keys. Lorraine Haughey, an Adec representative at the meeting, said the education authority was working overtime to resolve the issues. "The new teachers are understandably frustrated that things have taken some time to resolve," she said. "They expected things to be resolved overnight but here things move a bit slower than they do in the West. Our phones have been ringing non-stop as we worked overtime to alleviate all the problems."
The new recruits had voiced their frustration at having had to live in hotels for so long, some with children and infants, and not having their passports in their possession, preventing them from opening bank accounts, renting cars, or even getting a mobile telephone number. Frustrated at the lack of information provided by Adec, some were threatening to return home if their demands were not met. One teacher, who declined to be named, said communication from Adec had been "poor" and that its failure to provide a salary advance was putting a financial strain on her family.
The announcement from Youssef al Marzouqi, Adec's general services manager, that teachers would leave the meeting with their apartment keys in hand, was met with cheers and applause from the audience. "Thanks for your patience and understanding. I know you have a lot of questions about accommodations and housing," Mr al Marzouqi said. "I will start by saying that your apartments will be allocated after this meeting and you can begin moving in tomorrow."
The teachers were told that they would receive furniture allowances on Sunday and could remain in hotels for five days to have time to set up their new homes. One teacher, an American man, said: "I was expecting to come here to be told to be patient and that everything would eventually be worked out," he said. "I didn't expect that anything would be resolved today. I am pleasantly surprised." Mr al Marzouqi went on to explain that the delay on the issuance of residency visas was out of the authority's hands. "We are waiting for third parties to provide services such as government entities, the health authority and insurance companies," he said. "We have no control over them. We have delivered hundreds of passports to the immigration authorities over the past few weeks, but they process only a few a day. We are working to speed up the process with them and expect that you will all have your passports in hand next week."
Another teacher, a US citizen, voiced concern that her assigned school in Al Wagan, about an hour's drive south of Al Ain, was too far for her to commute from her accommodation every day. Mr al Marzouqi told her that teachers whose schools were outside Al Ain would be picked up and dropped off by buses hired by Adec. Hundreds of health insurance cards were also handed out to those who had completed their health checks.
For those who arrived less than three weeks ago, Mr al Marzouqi asked that they be patient while Adec processes their visas, national identity cards and health insurance. A similar meeting is being held in Abu Dhabi today for new teachers in the capital area who also complained. Adec countered that the vast majority of teachers had not complained about their treatment upon arrival and said that many had already received their visas.