Albanian College Cuts Local Staff Salary by 50%, Fails to Pay Rental Allowance for Foreign Hires

Albanian College in Tirana and Durres has not covered the rent of its foreign staff and has dropped the salary of its local teaching assistants to 50%.

In communications to members of staff, seen by Exit News, the Board of Governors blames the situation on the Coronavirus pandemic.

On April 9, teachers were informed that their rent allowances which are included in their employment contract, had not been paid.

“Today, you learn that the payment of your rent allowances has been delayed and we do not know how long this delay will be… The simple reason for the delay is that the Trustee, on whom the school currently depends for finance, is experiencing his own severe fiscal problems as a direct result of the Covd-19 [sic] crisis.”

The staff that relocate from abroad are paid a set amount to cover their rent. The announcement that the payment would not be made, came after the airport was closed meaning staff are unable to return to their home countries. Furthermore, staff are still conducting their work online on a full-time basis.

The second letter sent on the same day informed local staff that they would be paid “on average, 50% of their usual monthly salary.” According to teachers at Albanian College, this refers to Albanian teaching assistants who are also still working full time. They are required to attend faculty meetings, participate in full staff meetings, translating, helping with communication, and providing technical assistance.

The letter states that “for local staff, [I] hope that we will be able to find a way to pay in future, what we cannot tomorrow.”

For international staff, the letter states “this development does not mean that you will not receive your salaries in full at the end of this month. The situation is changing fast and the Governing Board will update you when we have any further clarification.”

Staff raised concerns with Exit News that they were continuing to teach but may not get paid. Others were worried that they would not be able to afford to stay in Albania, but could not leave due to Coronavirus restrictions.

A third letter, sent by Administrator Ervin Shehu to parents, asked them to make all outstanding payments of fees as soon as possible.

Exit has also been contacted by several whistleblowers who worked at Albanian College Tirana and Durres, in the last two years. They explained how their housing payments (between €300 and €500 a month each), annual flight allowances (from hundreds to thousands of Euro, depending on family size), and shipping allowances (around €800 per foreign hire), had also been paid in cash, meaning that they were also not being declared for tax purposes.

There are up to 80-85 foreign hires employed by Albanian College, which means a considerable amount—potentially as much as €187,000 a month—is being paid in cash and not appearing on the monthly payslip.

A senior member of staff told Exit that each month for the duration of their time at the school, a payment of a “few hundred” Euros was made into their bank account. The rest of the agreed-upon monthly salary was paid in cash.

Upon checking their tax records, the employee found that only the smaller amount paid in cash was being declared to the tax authorities. 

Another employee—an Albanian citizen—confirmed that foreign hires were often paid in this way and that it was “common knowledge” in the school. Several other past and present staff members said they had the same experience.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, school fees were generally paid in cash. Owner Astrit Veliaj, a former Democratic Party deputy, encouraged this practice and has been accused of failing to issue proper fiscal receipts. Ex-staff members told Exit that he had been seen collecting bundles of cash at the start of the year when fees are paid

In April 2019,  an email from Albanian College, sent to parents pressured them to prepay their children’s tuition fee. Parents claimed that they had demanded tax invoices, but were refused, leading to Veliaj threatening to keep students in the library and refusing them admission to lessons until payments are made.

The email reads: “We would like to inform you that the deadline for the third instalment was April 5th. Starting from April 18th, the school will not provide services to the families that will be debtors and the students will be relocated from classrooms to the school library where they will stay until 12:00 waiting for their parents to come. In the coming days none of the students whose families will still be debtors for the third instalment will not be admitted to the teaching [sic].”

Teachers and teaching assistants are now waiting to see if they will be paid at the end of this month. If they are not, many. risk finding themselves stranded in a country on lockdown, unable to return home and unable to meet their living costs. Local staff will also find themselves in an impossible situation where they are unable to support their families.