Companies across the UAE have been warned against posting job advertisements that specify gender, race or ethnicity as the government looks to tackle discriminatory language in public notices.
The country’s labour ministry said it “condemned in the strongest possible terms” any adverts that exclude someone from potential employment for those reasons.
It also said the principle extends to any suggestion of discrimination on the basis of nationality – a statement likely to have repercussions for recruitment in the UAE.
"Prejudicial discrimination has no place in the conditions of employment, nor in wider UAE society," Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, Dr Omar Al Nuaimi, told The National.
“The Ministry takes these allegations very seriously.”
His comments came after The National revealed how a UAE nursery group came under fire for stipulating it was looking for an English teacher of "European origin and white skin".
Happy Jump Nurseries said parents always asked about the nationality of the teachers, according to the principal of one of the nursery's six branches. The spokeswoman insisted the move was to bring greater diversity to its existing team, but the post was seen as symptomatic of wider issues in a recruitment industry that frequently looks for specific nationalities and genders.
The advert has been the subject of much discussion on social media and came in for criticism from many who said such practices are unacceptable, despite often being evident.
One reader commenting on The National's Facebook page said, "I've seen many jobs with specific nationalities, white or not."
But international conventions the UAE is party to – and national legislation – specifically outlaw such practices.
“The UAE is a signatory to the 1974 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the 2001 ILO Convention on the Prohibition of Discrimination in Employment and Occupations, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender or faith. National legislation also explicitly outlaws discrimination, whether in job advertisements or elsewhere,” Dr Al Nuaimi said.
“Where instances of discrimination come to light, UAE government agencies take collective action to prevent any further such abuses.”
Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser and columnist for The National, said companies and recruitment agencies will need to take heed or face the penalties.
“The case highlighted last week resulted in various people refuting this, despite the guidance previously issued by the UAE Government, so this absolutely underlines what has been said. Let’s hope that everyone now takes that on and acts accordingly,” she said.
Toby Simpson, a former managing director at a recruitment company with 11 years’ experience in the industry in the UAE, said companies should already be aware of the “very clear” anti-discrimination law of 2015.
Federal Law No 2 of 2015 – On Combating Discrimination and Hatred – made discrimination on the basis of someone’s religion, belief, sect, faith, creed, race, colour or ethnic origin illegal.
The legislation also covers national origin, which is often specified in job advertisements in the UAE.
National Editorial: Discrimination flies in the face of the UAE’s record of tolerance
Advertisements for posts related to Emiratisation programmes – the nation’s drive to get more of its citizens employed in the private sector – are exempt because the law applies to prejudicial, not positive discrimination, and the scheme has its own legal provision under the law.
The ministry has the power to investigate instances of discrimination, and if it is not satisfied with the explanation offered, it is up to the courts to assess and decide the appropriate penalty.
Mr Simpson said while the clarification on the law was welcome, ethical questions exist, such as whether companies can discriminate based on race if their intention is to actually increase the diversity of a workforce.
“My opinion is no – diversity will come naturally if meritocracy is applied,” he said.
According to Dubai law firm Clyde & Co, any offences against the law by committing an act that creates “any form of discrimination, by any means of expression” are punishable by a minimum prison sentence of five years and fines of between Dh500,000 and Dh1 million.
Any company that is found to discriminate on the basis of race, colour, gender, nationality and social origin is liable to be prosecuted under the terms of the current law.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation said it had the power to issue a letter to companies it suspected of breaking the law.
If the company failed to explain itself to a satisfactory level, it ran the risk of court action.
Mohammed Osama, managing director of Gulf Recruitment Group, said the clarification that nationality cannot be stated will be news to many companies.
“By clarifying the consequences of discriminating, when it comes to hiring staff, the government would be going a long way to removing any grey areas for companies to exploit,” he said.
“At the moment, a lot of companies are under the assumption there are no specific laws in place against discrimination in the UAE.”
Mr Osama said he was sympathetic to Happy Jump Nurseries.
“While this appears to be a very blatant case of discrimination, it is important to remember this is a small company that has possibly been naive,” he said.
“The bigger problem lies with the big multinationals that are also discriminating when it comes to recruitment but are too smart to put anything like that down in writing.”
He said he had been approached many times by companies asking for candidates from a “Western Europe background only”.
An easy way to spot companies that are guilty of discriminatory hiring policies, said Mr Osama, is to take a look at departments where most of the staff come from the same background.