30 C
Doha
Monday, October 25, 2021

UCL Qatar backtracks after some female staff paid less than men

-

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

University College London (UCL) Qatar, the local branch of one of the UK’s most prestigious universities, has admitted to an “anomaly” in its HR policy that stipulated married women recruited locally would be paid significantly less than their male colleagues.

In a story published in the UK’s The Times newspaper this week, an internal email sent last year by Thilo Rehren, director of UCL Qatar, called the policy of giving married female members of staff a lower housing allowance than their male colleagues “morally and legally not acceptable.”

The note, sent to UCL’s vice provost for student affairs, read:

“Current practice (which is informed by Qatari norms) treats our employees materially differently depending on their gender, which is morally and legally not acceptable, leads to serious dissatisfaction at work, and poses a risk for staff retention.”

Rehren’s comments followed a complaint from a member of UCL Qatar staff in January last year that said that the policy could “materially disadvantage married women.”

The exchange of internal emails on the subject was uncovered by Times reporters following a Freedom of Information law request, which allow both journalists and members of the public in the UK to request records from public institutions.

The emails highlight the case of a woman who received a housing allowance of just £624 (QR3,469) a month compared to a male colleague who received £3,568 (QR19,831) a month, despite there being just one grade difference between the two employees.

The emails also show that the university took steps to remedy the situation after the complaint was raised, giving compensation to current and former staff who were affected by the rule.

One member of staff was given £124,000 (QR690,000) in compensation to reflect the housing allowance she should have been paid, the newspaper reports.

The Times‘ article follows an outcry in the UK media after one of UCL’s professors, Tim Hunt, was forced to resign after making sexist comments about female scientists.

What the law says

Rehren’s statement that UCL-Qatar’s policy was “informed by Qatari norms” reflects a common scenario here.

Usually, only the “head of a household” is entitled to receive benefits like housing allowances, school fee allowances and free flights home.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

This often means that women who are married to men who are also working in Qatar do not receive allowances received by other colleagues doing the same job.

This is because many married women arrive in Qatar on a family visa, sponsored by their husbands.

When she starts looking for work, potential employers assume that she will already be accommodated in housing provided by her husband’s employer, and therefore they believe she has no need of further financial assistance to help with housing.

Qatar’s Human Resources Law lays out contractual rules for employees of government ministries, public authorities and institutions (like UCL Qatar’s hosts, Qatar Foundation).

It states that if both husband and wife work for a government ministry or related agency, the spouse who qualifies for the highest housing allowance should continue to receive it.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The other spouse would be paid the same (lower) allowance as that of an unmarried employee. The policy, however, does not state that the man should automatically receive the higher allowance.

In the case of UCL Qatar, married women recruited locally – both expats and Qatari nationals – were paid a “married person’s supplement,” lower than the allowance given to a single person and significantly less than the allowance given to married men and women recruited from abroad.

Private companies in Qatar set their own rules regarding housing allowance entitlement, but it is normal for them to refuse to offer a locally-hired spouse (either male or female) any additional benefits on top of his/her salary, particularly if that employee remains under the spouse’s sponsorship and not the company’s.

Although these practices appear to discriminate against women, Qatar’s Labor Law specifically states that women and men should receive equal pay:

“Article (93) A working woman shall be paid a wage equivalent to the wage payable to a man if she performs the same work and shall be availed of the same opportunities of training and promotion.”

However, despite the word of the law, it does appear that the withholding of benefits such as housing allowances is having a significant impact on the earning power of locally-hired women – and it’s not a new problem.

In 2011, the Qatar Statistic Authority’s Sustainable Development Indicators report focused on the widening pay gap between men and women in Qatar, noting that many women, both Qatari and non Qatari, were paid 25 to 50 percent less than men, despite the fact that their working hours were comparable.

The report attributed the widening gulf in part to the social allowances afforded men as household heads, which women were unlikely to receive.

University’s response

The Times noted that UCL Qatar staff were alerted to the change in policy last July, and it is assumed that affected female staff received compensation soon afterwards.

UCL Qatar Graduation ceremony
UCL Qatar Graduation ceremony

In a newly released statement reacting to the newspaper’s story, UCL disclosed that the housing element of its contracts for staff in Qatar was the responsibility of its “partner on the ground,” QF, which funds the housing of its staff.

However, the university says it accepts “legitimate criticism for the error (it) made” but says that it was a “genuine mistake” which was “rectified more than a year before any media coverage.”

Ethics of foreign firms

For Times columnist Giles Whittell, who wrote an editorial in Wednesday’s Times entitled “Universities that forget values lose their reputation,” this incident is an example of how many British firms water down their values when they move abroad in order to make doing business easier.

“Higher education should be a growth export for Britain,” he said, “but British educational brands have value abroad because of what they stand for. If it turns out they don’t stand for anything, it won’t be long before they don’t have any value either.”

For its part, UCL argues that its move to remedy the situation when it came to light shows that it takes its ethics seriously:

“Any university that seeks to branch out and establish an overseas presence faces the challenge of remaining true to its ethos while appreciating that legal and societal practices vary around the world,” it said in its statement.

“Whether in Qatar or elsewhere, our aim is to engage to support progressive change. We do not leave our values behind when we leave London.”

Thoughts?

19 COMMENTS

Subscribe
Notify of
19 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
The Reporter
The Reporter
6 years ago

Welcome to the real world Qatar – gender equality in action. I’m sure you’ll recoil in horror at the potential cost implications, but it is just one of the foundation stones on which a just and humane society is built, and Qatar surely want’s to be seen as such a society………..doesn’t it?

f00
f00
6 years ago
Reply to  The Reporter

One more reason for you not to extend your job contract in Qatar.

Amber
Amber
6 years ago

It’s actually common for employers in Qatar to pay locally hired staff less than those recruited from abroad. I work in a school and locally hired teachers are paid less than overseas because the assumption is since you are already living here you don’t need money for housing or other allowances.

Employers just find ridiculous ways of cutting cost.

Anonmauser
Anonmauser
6 years ago

Kudos are due for addressing the discrimination and paying back compensation, that is for sure. Now, the bigger issue Qatar’s non-enforcement of 93(a). Good luck with that.

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago

It is like that everywhere around the world, so why is it a big fuss when it is in Qatar? Moreover, as it is stated above, there is no salary segregation in the law itself. It is only for the housing allowance when both husband and wife work. Why would the government or even a private company pay a housing allowance to a spouse (Husband or wife) who is already benefitting from a housing allowance from another entity? As far as I know, they are not going to rent two houses, so it is logical. Also, this is inline with the sponsorship rules. If your sponsor is your husband/wife, they are supposed to offer you accommodation. If I hire you locally and do not transfer your sponsorship to my company then your partner who is your sponsor will still have to offer you accommodation.

Andrew
Andrew
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say it’s like that “everywhere around the world”. This practice would be illegal if it was carried out at UCL’s London campus, so while it’s not illegal in Qatar, it does present an ethical challenge for the university. You cannot have one ethical and legal framework for one university in the UK, and another, discriminatory, framework in Qatar. Well, you can, but it’s a bad look, as the university acknowledges.

Good on them for taking the step to get rid gender discrimination. You cannot import a western organization and then tell them to leave their ethics at the door.

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

1- Yes it is everywhere. You can read here about the examples of Canada, the U.S., Australia and the EU
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_pay_gap
2- I think you did not read the article. The law in Qatar says it clearly:
“Article (93) A working woman shall be paid a wage equivalent to the wage payable to a man if she performs the same work and shall be availed of the same opportunities of training and promotion.”

Andrew
Andrew
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

I never once said it was illegal in Qatari law. I said it was not legal under UK law, a point made in the Doha News article above when the college director described the pay disparity between men and women “morally and legally not acceptable”.

If you bring in foreign institutions in bring in the whole box and dice, including the idea that men and women receive equal remuneration for doing the same job. It might be an acceptable argument in Qatar to tell a woman that she will get less in her paycheck each month because her husband will be there to pay for her housing and to support the family, but that line of reasoning is not very common in the west.

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Hmmm I thought you initially wrote it was illegal. Anyway if it is only a difference in the housing allowance and not in the base salary then I do not see any discrimination here. If you are under you wise/husband sponsorship the you shouldn’t be getting any housing allowance. This lady in the article is getting one even though she is a local hire. She should be happy with it rather than complain she is getting a lower allowance than her colleagues who are overseas hire.

Lisa Clayton
Lisa Clayton
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

It is illegal in the U.S. To offer different benefits based upon marital status or gender. It’s a great way to get sued.

That said there is still disparity in pay between men and women, based upon the fact that most jobs employing women may not be as financially lucrative as others. Alternatively, women may have difficulty reaching the highest levels of an employer’s organizational structure, often because of the time she may have lost in her career due to childbirth or maternal duties. There are still many challenges for working mothers in the U.S. However, a company offering a job that will pay a man more than a woman based upon their gender would be doing so illegally and subject to legal proceedings.

Misha
Misha
6 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Clayton

Actually it is not gender here, it is a difference of sponsored vs non sponsored. Sponsored married females do get the same housing allowance as sponsored married males although it is rare for this to happen I know at least three examples of this.

However in most companies there is a difference between salaries (not just allowance) for locally hired vs hired abroad which is unfair as you are paying someone to do a job and how you hire them should be irrelevant.

There is still marital discrimination though, among Qataris as well, the assumption that you need more money when you have a spouse. Does that mean a person who has 5 kids should get more than someone with 1 kid? No, that would be considered unfair.

Anonmauser
Anonmauser
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

I don’t think that you understand the legal system of the developed countries that you have cited. You are much better off using other regional developing nations for comparison.

Curiosity Killed the Cat
Curiosity Killed the Cat
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Yes, your right, it’s like this everywhere in the whole wide world, so we shouldn’t bother highlighting it here in Qatar until everyone else in big wide world sorts it out.

King
King
6 years ago

Discrimination is the best word to discribe about this article.

Joe
Joe
6 years ago

In their attempt to pass the responsibility to their “Patrons”, they claim they acted according to the “rule of the land”! Referring, obviously, to the notorious “Human resources Law”. Well, shame on you both, hypocrites!
One talks about the “advancement of women” and “Gender Equality” to sell their image abroad. The other one leaves those “values” behind when operating in third world countries.

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

It’s interesting this one. They were not discriminated on salary but allowances. Allowances are there to provide such things as accommodation or transport, not as part of salary. What they should have done is split their policy in two on the basis of sponsored or non sponsored employees, therefore it would be gender neutral.

Me
Me
6 years ago

Who run the world? Girls!!!!!

Deer Bestow
Deer Bestow
6 years ago

Thilo is doing a super job and UCL’s presence in Qatar is catering to the needed training of eligible students and future staff members of the Qatari heritage sector establishments. UCL has not lost its values, it continues to be a pioneer in its field. While museum studies worldwide are only a decade old, UCL-Q students are receiving a specialized bespoke post-grad education and training, one that is specifically created to organically cater to the building of Qatars existing cultural capital. There is no other Masters Program that caters to the tailor made degrees that reflect the regions cultural heritage such as that offered by UCL Qatar. It saddens me to see that none of these noteworthy accomplishments are being mentioned yet the world media is quick to react to accusations that are sadly unfounded.
The laws have not been broken. The qualms voiced, most probably by a disgruntled ex-UCL Qatar employee are unfounded because basic salaries are paid equally regardless of gender. The bone that’s being picked is that housing allowances were not payed equally. It is arguably illogical to pay an employee the extra housing allowances because as Yacine mentioned if a married female employee is already living in a home which is payed for by her already employed (and receiving housing benefits) husband, then it’s not only irrational but it should be considered illegal for both of them to receive housing allowances. The housing allowance is meant to pay for accommodation you rent to live in Qatar…not to finance a morgage for another home you’re investing in back home. Stop treating Qatar like a bottomless well of money anyone can draw from. This little smear campaign against UCL Qatar, and Qatar by way of it is an orchestrated shindig to inact the law of taking-advantage-of-your-employer, by way of the country hosting you warrants an investigation and the money should be retuned to UCL because no laws have been broken
Stooping so low as to “leak emails” to tabloids in order to waive a false antifeminist flag for unjustifufied personal gain is shamefull, Tsk tsk.

Joe
Joe
6 years ago
Reply to  Deer Bestow

What if her husband is unemployed but lives in a palace provided for by public funds! Does that make her eligible for housing allowance?

Related Articles

- Advertisment -

Most Read

Subscribe to Doha News below!

To be updated with all the latest news, offers and special announcements.