On Your Side: Ramadan hours in free zones and overtime pay
Last week, you answered a query about reduced working hours during the holy month of Ramadan. Does this also apply to free zones? In addition, my colleagues and I are very busy at the moment, so it is unlikely that we will get all our work done during this shortened working day. Are we allowed to work for longer and if so, can we be paid for the extra time? – RP Dubai
Although employees of free zones are subject to the rules and regulations of the free zone concerned, which tend to have their own employment contracts and different rules regarding labour bans, the UAE's Labour Law still applies. In this case, Article 65, which states that "during the month of Ramadan, normal working hours shall be reduced by two hours", is applicable. My understanding is that provided your employer is not forcing you to work additional hours and is happy for you to continue working, you may do so. Some people may be eligible for overtime payments for these additional hours, but only provided this has been agreed with the employer at the outset. You should also note that Article 72 of the Labour Law says overtime is not payable to managerial or supervisory staff.
I have read with interest a number of your replies to other readers regarding their queries about UAE Labour Law entitlements. However, I am still not clear what the position might be relating to annual vacation. I have been in the UAE for three years working on a project based in the east coast region. My monthly payments are based on an agreed daily rate plus a fixed monthly allowance for provision of accommodation and transport. The contract is single status, but my wife is resident here with me. The contract terms permit me 25 days of annual leave, which, if taken, is unpaid. During our time here, we have returned to the UK on two or three occasions for periods ranging from seven to 14 days only, none of which was paid. My contract clearly specifies the position with regard to the end of contract UAE gratuity payments, but excludes any mention of 30 days' paid leave. Is this perhaps in some way to do with the fact that I am on a day-rate contract? It seems strange that the UAE Labour Law requires payment of 30 days' annual leave or cash in lieu, and yet this is excluded from my contract terms. Your advice on this issue would be most appreciated. - BC Fujairah
BC's situation is unusual because he is not on a standard employment contract receiving a monthly salary, but is on agreed terms from the outset for a daily rate of pay. Although the majority of people who come to the UAE are on a standard employment contract, there are many people who are essentially self-employed, but sponsored by an employer to work for them only. Often these people are employed on a commission-only basis, although there are those, such as BC, on a daily payment contract. The UAE Labour Law is quite strict, but in cases such as this, different terms may apply if agreed to by both parties at the outset, signed by them both and the relevant contract is lodged with the Ministry of Labour. If different terms have been agreed, and are not deemed to be against the employee's interest, then these will stand. The Labour Law does state that there should be a minimum of 30 days' annual leave, but this is meant to refer to standard employees and someone on different terms may theoretically request a full 30 days' leave each year, but will not be paid for this if they are paid purely on days of work per their accepted contract.
I am British and have been living in Abu Dhabi for 18 months. I still make UK National Insurance contributions, but have a query about receiving National Health Service (NHS) treatment because friends have different opinions. Some say I should receive free treatment because I hold a British passport and I have paid into the system for years, but others say that I am not entitled to anything anymore. Can you confirm the correct situation for us? - WE Abu Dhabi
If a UK resident leaves the country and is working overseas and not paying income tax, they will generally be presumed to be a non-resident for tax purposes and, as such, no longer eligible for free treatment under the NHS. The payment of voluntary National Insurance contributions counts towards the state pension and has nothing to do with being able to use the NHS as a non-resident of the UK. This differs, however, if you are a resident in certain European Economic countries. Generally, emergency treatment is free for anyone who requires it, but there may be a charge for associated treatment, even in the same hospital. Each health authority will have its own guidelines, but they are unlikely to vary by much. To have full eligibility to treatment without charge, you would have to take up full-time residency in the UK again.
I have been working for my current employer for some time, but am planning on giving them my notice to leave. My contract has a four-month notice period, which, although long, is what I agreed to. However, if the company wants me to leave immediately, does it have to pay me for the full notice period of four months? I have heard stories of companies refusing to pay people in the past, despite insisting that they leave straight away. I work in a major free zone if this makes any difference. - WP Dubai
Because the contract of employment specifies a four-month notice period and this was signed by both parties, then you are entitled to work for the four-month notice period, or be paid in lieu if the company decides that you are no longer required to carry out your duties. The law clearly states that payment is due. This applies both in a free zone and generally across the UAE.
Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Write to her at email@example.com with queries for this column or for advice on any other financial planning matter.
Published: August 5, 2011 04:00 AM