Unemployment, redundancy, lay-offs and downsizing are all things that I had hoped to be waving goodbye to when the plane took off in Ireland two years ago, destined for the Middle East.
Tired of staring unemployment in the face in Ireland, Abu Dhabi was sure to provide more palatable sights. To the untrained eye, it does. On my initial weeks in Abu Dhabi, I viewed the moving sales including house contents and bargain 4 x 4’s as a happy side effect of expats leaving to go home, their time punched in. I viewed the places that suddenly became available in the school as a stroke of luck, the right place at the right time. Life just fell into place. It wasn’t until I saw the notice up outside the pool area, displaying my friend’s fuchsia pink leather armchair and matching footstool for sale that I began to suspect that all was not what it seemed. After all, she loved that chair. We hadn’t been in contact for almost two weeks, she had declined a lunch offer, and I should have known something was up because she loved lunch too.
Two pots of tea and a box of mansize tissues later I pat her back uselessly as she sobs, completely inconsolable. Her husband was working his one-month notice, he had worked late and arrived early his efforts had paid off, the job was coming to a close. They had moved from Dublin 8 months previous and like every Irish that first arrived, planned to stay three or four years tops and arrive home, tanned, monied and ready to re-enter the rejuvenated Irish economy. Their situation was fraught with problems. Unable to return to Ireland as their home was being rented out, although the rent didn’t cover the mortgage repayment, it was keeping the bank off their backs. Walking out on Abu Dhabi wasn’t easy either, given that rent is paid up a year in advance, and the school fees were paid for coming term. Unfortunately when they read their contract fully it was clear that it was drafted in favour of the employer and not the employee. Leaving Abu Dhabi mid-year and thus breaking their house and car lease agreements would incur a significant loss, placing them in a worse situation that they were in eight months ago when they arrived. Along with being unsettling to the point of being sickening but the uncertainty was causing both herself and her husband serious stress. I could do, I bought the fuchsia pink armchair which was more reflective of the luxury and organized a leaving night out.
The leaving night turned into a ‘we found a new job and we’re staying after all” night and it was here that my eyes were well and truly opened and any shred of naivety that I had when I entered the stylish Italian restaurant, didn’t accompany me homeq2. Each of the eleven women at the table had a similar story, some had moved jobs three or four times during their time in Abu Dhabi, others had tales of new jobs in Dubai, Qatar and Saudi being cancelled minutes before they embarked the flight. Where’s the loyalty? I asked, the answer was resounding; there was not loyalty when working for Middle Eastern companies. “We’ve stopped making long term plans”, said one, “I just live for the day”, said another. The companies hire and fire with no thought for effects that their reckless behavior is having on families. Promises of large salaries, bonuses and a family friendly lifestyle go out the door when the project is over budget and the costs saving tactics are ruthless. The frailty of work offers a shaky foundation on which to build a fabulous but fragile life in a country that is designed to take back every penny that it gives leaving Irish expats in a no-win situation. The only saving grace to this uncertain system is that in the Middle East, there is no stigma attached to being made redundant and it’s just as easy to pick up another fabulous but fragile job down the road.
A note to all thinking of travelling to the Middle East, check your contract, check your contract and while in living in the Middle East enjoy your time on the fuchsia pink leather armchair with matching footstool, it might not always be yours!