A new law regulating private sector work in the UAE grants "groundbreaking" rights for women in the emirates, said legal experts.
Federal Decree-Law No 33 of 2021 has been described as one of the "largest updates" to the laws regulating labour relations, and replaces the previous decree which had been in existence since 1980.
Women are given greater rights, in particular expectant and new mothers, with maternity leave increased by a minimum of 30 per cent.
Employers are allowed to grant longer leave periods for new mothers at their discretion, but the new rules specify the minimum number of days that working women are entitled to take for maternity leave.
Under the current law, maternity leave was 45 days at full pay for those working in the private sector. Now employers must offer a minimum of 45 days at full pay plus 15 more days at 50 per cent pay.
Dubai lawyer Ludmila Yamalova described the changes as "a tremendous step forward".
"The new law definitely offers working women better benefits. Maternity leave has been extended by 30 per cent, bringing it on a par with DIFC's rules for mothers," said Ms Yamalova, who is the managing partner of HPL Yamalova & Plewka.
Once the basic maternity leave leave is used up, women may take a further 45 days without pay, if her child is unwell, or if she has an illness as a result of pregnancy or childbirth, and she is unable to return to her work.
The days can be concurrent or intermittent, and the sickness must be proved with a medical certificate issued by a medical authority.
The new laws also stipulate that a working woman is still entitled to her maternity leave in the event of a still birth at any point from six months of the pregnancy onwards. This also applies if the baby dies at any point within the maternity leave period.
If a baby is born with a disability that means it needs constant care, the mother can take further leave of 30 days with full pay after their basic maternity leave, and this can be extended for a period of 30 days without pay.
The new law also states that men in the private sector can claim five days paternity leave. This was previously the case in some emirates but is now a federal law.
Currently, women working in government departments in the UAE are given a 90-day paid break.
Protection from employers
The new law also protects working women in the private sector from being sacked because they are pregnant.
Article 30.8 in the law states, "It is not allowed to terminate the service of a working woman or give her a warning because of pregnancy, of obtaining maternity leave, or of her absence from work in accordance with the provisions of this article."
Ms Yamalova described this clause as "groundbreaking".
"Over the years we've had many clients come to us with claims that they have been fired due to pregnancy, or because they want to take their maternity leave," said Ms Yamalova.
Once women return from their maternity leave, they are entitled to one or two rest periods per day to breastfeed their child, as long as the duration of the two periods does not exceed an hour. This allowance lasts until the baby is six months old.
Rejoining the workforce
New flexible working rules mean that returning to work will also be a less stressful process for new mothers.
New articles in the labour law will introduce three new types of work in the UAE, including part-time work, which could suit women re-entering the workforce.
Temporary work or project-based work, plus flexible work will also be permitted, with employees able to work a specific number of hours or on certain days, or limited projects.
Abdulrahman Al Awar, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation said the new law was designed "in preparation for the next fifty years", and "to deal best with the changes in the working world".
The law will come into force on February 2, 2022.