Money (that’s what I want)

Obviously I’m not paid enough, but I try not to complain. Our Afghan staff don’t think they’re paid enough either, and often do complain.

Salaries are, unexpectedly, a bit controversial. Or at least a complicated question. There is a huge discrepancy between expat and national salary scales, but that is of course right and just and not for me to comment on.

Compared to other similar INGOs, our national staffs’ wages are a little above average, but that’s little comfort for them. Compared with USAID and its myriad of contractors, ours are a pittance. It can make finding and retaining suitable staff a pain in the arse.

One of my guys applied for job with such a contractor. I only found out through a friend of a friend, who happened to be the person looking to recruit him. Talking about it with them in the bar one night, I wasn’t best pleased but was grudgingly happy to think he might get a better wage even if I did lose a valuable person. The going salary would be nearly double. There is though some USAID policy that means they should only pay 5% more than what a person is currently earning, if they are doing the same job. So would I mind signing something to say my guy’s salary was just a wee bit higher than it actually is? I wasn’t going to stand in his way but I wasn’t exactly chuffed. Luckily for me, he didn’t get the job.

There is often confusion in Afghanistan about what an NGO is and what is a for-profit organisation or private company. Our staff sometimes compare our salary scales with those of ‘NGOs’ that are actually multi-billion dollar private companies. We try and pay a fair wage but there’s no way we can compete with those, yet struggle to explain the differences between the numerous outfits.

It’s easy to think they should just be bloody well grateful to have any job at all, but of course I never would.

While the NGOs have trouble with the contractors and companies, the government has trouble with the NGOs. The Director of a small government unit I met recently would be paid around 100 dollars a month. The average junior civil-servants’ wage is apparently around 50 a month. My staff’s salary is about four-times that of the government Director; the salary he would have had with the private company about eight-times as much.

Which doesn’t exactly help the government recruit and retain suitable staff, or avoid corruption. It doesn’t help me quell my staffs’ gripping about their salaries either, but maybe that’s because they think I’m paid too much.


6 Responses to “Money (that’s what I want)”

  1. Marianne Says:

    Wait, did somebody say complicated? Can I use that as a convenient veil to pull over the “complicated” issue of how much I got paid by the UN? And the “complicated” fact that back in NZ I can only afford to work in a lowly paid role with an INGO because I’m still living off the money I saved while working for the UN in Ghor? If anyone finds that odd or inappropriate I answer “It’s complicated”….

  2. Roberta Says:

    Oh yeah, and there’s the fun organisations whereby you get paid a perdiem “out of town” rate for LIVING in a cosmoplitan national capital (I’m not going to name it, but it isn’t dry), and an additional perdiem for any nights spent away from there. Jealous, moi?

  3. harryrud Says:

    So you think ‘complicated’ is a bit of an under-statement, Marianne?

    When asked outside the country how it is to work in Afghanistan, my standard reply is ‘interesting, very interesting.’ Then change the subject pronto.

  4. transitionland Says:

    I was so incredibly ignorant about what UN employees got paid until about a year and half ago, when I worked up the courage to ask a few perhaps I should have looked up the salary grid online, but that is another matter). I was blown away. I figured it would be a little higher than a comparable NGO position, but holy hell!

    My then boyfriend teased me incessantly about it, but admitted that he also saw me as less mercenary.

    A former roommate works for the OSCE, is one year older than I am, interned in the same cohort I did, and makes close to six figures.

    Shocking, very shocking. Perhaps also slightly wrong.

  5. transitionland Says:

    USAID people in Afghanistan are also paid very, very well. Per diem comes to at least $3000 a month (I know, because I was almost sent over to do something for USAID, and would have *only* received the per diem –which is about *twice* the monthly salary of an entry-level NGO employee here.)

  6. Michael Kleinman Says:

    Great post – linked back to it at:

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