Struggling teachers at Abu Dhabi French school head for home

With the decline in the purchasing power of the euro coupled with rising inflation in the UAE, one Abu Dhabi school is experiencing an exodus of teachers.

About 30 per cent of the 120 teachers at Lycée Louis Massignon in Abu Dhabi will depart next month, with more expected to leave at the end of the next school year, according to school employees. The educators said that it was more than the previous year, but could not confirm if previous departures were also based on economic strains.

Teachers at the school are paid in euros because the educational establishment is a foreign counterpart to a school in France, therefore does not fall under Abu Dhabi Educational Council’s (Adec) jurisdiction.

According to French government regulations, all those hired from France to work in the school are required to receive their salary in euros. Local recruits are paid in dirhams.

The group of Lycée teachers say there was no problem when the currency was riding high against the dollar-pegged dirham.

However, the euro’s recent decline, along with a salary freeze, lack of housing allowance and the rising cost of living has put a squeeze on their disposable incomes.

For foreign hires, a total of Dh60,000 for a three-year contract is issued as a one-time “arrival allowance”. This is meant to go towards housing; however, that amount would struggle to cover a year’s rent.

The property broker CBRE said in October that rents for an average high-end two-bedroom flat on the island of Abu Dhabi rose 4 per cent to between Dh140,000 and Dh195,000 a year during three months ending in September. Similar properties outside the city rose 3 per cent, ranging from Dh70,000 and Dh95,000.

“There has not been a salary increase since 2010, and two years ago the administration cancelled housing without offering compensation,” says Valerie Fossard, a teacher at the school for nine years.The average starting salary at the school is about Dh18,000 per month. The school administration head, Didier Combeau, declined to comment on the matter. Sebastien Gousset, lives with his wife and fellow teacher, Camilla, and their two children in a two-bedroom flat in Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed bin Zayed City, paying Dh100,000 a year. “Before we had shared villas because we couldn’t afford to be in a real flat, but then we couldn’t do that anymore because it was illegal,” he says.

“So we moved further out of the city.”

Many of the teachers have scheduled meetings with the French embassy as well as Adec. In a meeting with France’s ambassador to the UAE, Michel Miraillet, he informed the teachers he had escalated the problem to the proper authorities although nothing could be done in the interim. The French embassy could not be reached for comment.

In a statement to The National, Adec said teachers and the school head from Lycée Louis Massignon had approached the body for assistance to locate an affordable “landlord or a property owner to help in renting out flats that are reasonably priced”.

“Adec’s private schools and quality assurance sector is a regulator to private schools across the emirate of Abu Dhabi, thus the school and individual teachers are the ones responsible to search for flats or property developers,” said the statement. The teachers say a lack of health insurance or travel allowance added further strain to their personal finances.

“As long as our salaries were large enough, it wasn’t a problem,” said one teacher. “Now that the salary isn’t enough, we’d like to have the same benefits teachers from other schools have.”

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