UAE embarks on biggest labour law shake-up in years

Part-time work, job shares, work permits for 15-year-olds and longer maternity leave mark overhaul of workplace rules

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New labour rules brought in on Tuesday are set to shake up the private sector work landscape, allowing for more flexible working for employees and less red tape for businesses.

The changes affect 4.9 million employees as legislation approved in late 2021 replaces a law first drafted in 1980.

There is something very good here for employed students, who can freely work and have their own arrangements with mutual consent from their employer
Mohamed Rouchdi, ICLO

Abdulrahman Al Awar, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, said the move would enhance the labour market for years to come, “characterised by flexibility, efficiency, ease of conducting business and attracting talents, and available expertise and skills".

Several of the changes mark major developments that benefit employees and employers. Many others are minor tweaks that are unlikely to change everyday working life.

The laws affect employees in free zones and mainland companies, with the exception of Dubai International Financial Centre and Abu Dhabi Global Markets.

Changes big and small

In the coming months, workers will see their permanent or indefinite contracts replaced with renewable three-year contracts, with some implications for gratuity depending on length of service worked.

Further provisions will make it easier for companies to hire people for part-time work and allow for job shares. Employers can now offer those aged 15 and above part-time paid work — as well as valuable experience in the workplace.

“There is something very good here for employed students, who can freely work and have their own arrangements with mutual consent from their employer,” said Mohammed Rouchdi, partner at law firm ICLO.

Employers must give new mothers more time off, with an extra 15 days at half-pay and a further 45 days unpaid leave in case of illness, marking an increase of about 30 per cent.

And employees who have lost or left their jobs will have 180 days before their residency visa expires — up from only 30 days previously. This move is one of the most significant changes in years.

Under previous rules, some employers misused a non-compete clause to make a departing employee leave the country rather than take up a new role. This is no longer allowed.

Hate, discrimination and sexual harassment rules

The law bolsters previously introduced rules that protect workers from “sexual harassment, bullying or any verbal, physical or psychological violence” by superiors or colleagues as well as “any type of discrimination based on race, colour, sex, religion, nationality or disability”, state news agency Wam reported.

The amendments aim to promote equal rights for women and prohibit any discrimination against them, ensuring they receive the same pay as men for the same work or for a job of equal value.

The new laws stipulate that employers may not use any means of force against workers or use threats of penalties to make them work against their will.

Rest and sick days

Workers are entitled to one paid leave day every week, with the possibility of additional weekly leave days upon the company’s own discretion, and the rules introduce a five or three-day paid bereavement leave, in addition to the five days of parental leave.

The laws also regulate the duties of employers, such as providing adequate housing, safety and health measures and capacity and skills development training.

The duties and responsibilities of employees are also outlined, such as respecting working hours, maintaining good ethics and behaviour and seeking to improve their professional skills.

'Workers less tied down to their jobs'

Emily Roberts, a consultant at Genie, a recruitment agency in Dubai, said the move will have a positive effect on workplace well-being and environments, as many job seekers can now spend time searching for the right opportunity.

“I believe this may spur some individuals to make the jump and look for a role that is better for them,” she said.

“As a recruiter, I do come across a lot of candidates who are deeply unhappy in their roles, which can be due to a number of reasons [such as] poor management or no work-life balance.”

A lot of people could not take the leap of resigning in the past without another role confirmed, mainly because of visa restrictions, she said.

Emirati lawyer Awatif Mohammed said the new law enhances the rights of both employers and employees.

“The market will further attract talents and skills from across the world, especially after allowing different styles of work, a move that came in response to the challenges forced by Covid-19 but proved necessary to the progress the country is witnessing,” she said.

12 types of permits for six work roles

In total, there are 12 types of permit, from a student permit for 15- to 18-year-olds to one for people with a Golden Visa. And there are six work models that can be agreed upon between employer and employee, which are as follows:

  • Full time: working for one employer for a full work day.
  • Remote work: the scheme enables full-time and part-time employees to work completely or partially outside the office should the nature of their work allow it.
  • Shared job model: splitting job responsibilities and pay among more than one employee based on an agreement with the employer. The employees’ contracts under this model are governed by part-time job regulations.
  • Part-time: working for one or more employers for a specified number of hours or days.
  • Temporary work: a contract for a specific period of time, or for one project that ends with the job’s completion.
  • Flexible work: giving employees the freedom to work at different times depending on the conditions and requirements of the job based on a contract that covers hours, days and duties required.
Updated: February 02, 2022, 5:54 AM