My wife is pregnant with our first child and it has been a difficult pregnancy due to some medical conditions she has. I have had to take most of my annual leave due to her health and won't have much leave left when the baby is due in December. Do I have the right to take paternity leave or extra leave, even if unpaid, because of my family circumstances? PG, Dubai
Congratulations on the impending birth. The timing is fortuitous as there has just been a change to the UAE Labour Law. Federal Decree Law No. 6 of 2020, which amends Federal Law No. 8 of 1980 on the Regulation of Labour Relations, otherwise known as the UAE Labour Law, came into effect on September 25 and is good news for fathers.
The decree provides entitlement of five paid days of parental leave to all employees in the private sector. The parental leave must be taken within six months of the birth and does not affect the existing provisions for female employees. This is as per Article 30 of the UAE Labour Law.
The new provisions apply to all private sector employees including those who work in free zones, but excluding the Dubai International Financial Centre and the Abu Dhabi Global Market, which have their own rules that allow for similar parental leave.
Interestingly, the decree refers to male and female employees and all appear to be eligible immediately once they start working for a company. So, it seems that female staff now have a few days of fully paid leave even if they have less than a year of service. Ordinarily, the standard maternity leave of 45 days is payable at just 50 per cent if a female employee has worked for a company for less than a full year.
I have been in my job for more than a year. When Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, I want to travel to Sri Lanka to visit my family. I am owed annual leave. However, my employer retains all employees' passports. He says it is up to him to give me back my passport and that he can choose whether I can take annual leave. Do I have any rights over this as it does not seem to be fair? SV, Sharjah
There are two main issues to address here. In respect of annual leave, if an employee has accrued leave, then they must be permitted to take it, but the employer can restrict when it is taken. This is a mainland company, so the UAE Labour Law applies in full. Article 76 of the Labour Law states: “The employer may determine the date of commencement of the annual leave and may divide it, if necessary, to two or more periods.” This means the employer can decide when leave can be taken but they should not prevent staff from taking leave as the law specifies minimum entitlement.
In respect of the passport, no employer should ever retain an employee’s passport without their express permission. I am aware this happens but this is a form of unacceptable control and is illegal. A passport is technically the property of the government that issued it and wording to this effect can be found in the small print in every passport.
While everyone has to hand their passports over to authorised bodies to obtain visas, individuals are not supposed to hand them over to unauthorised bodies, including employers, for reasons other than affixing visas.
The legal department of the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratisation (MoHRE) has advised that “retaining workers’ passports also amounts to forcible work in violation of the International Labour Organisation Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour, to which the UAE is a signatory”.
In 2002, the Ministry of Interior issued a decree that said: “As the passport is a personal document and as the law obliges its owner to keep and show when required by governmental authorities, it is not allowed for any party to detain the passport except by official parties with a judicial order and according to the law. Consequently, it will be considered as an illegal action to detain the passport in the UAE, except by governmental parties.”
The offence carries a jail sentence and a fine of up to Dh20,000.
If an employer refuses to return a passport, the individual can register a case against them via MoHRE or at their local labour office, but I would advise going directly to the police if it is required urgently. If an employer refuses to permit an employee to take the leave that is due to them, they should also register a complaint with MoHRE.
Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser and senior partner with Holborn Assets in Dubai, with more than 25 years’ experience. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FinancialUAE
The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only