UAE's parental leave law to pave way for more family time and home working

Workplace experts welcome the five-day break for new fathers in the private sector

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A law allowing new parents to take five days of parental leave is the latest sign the country is putting families first, workplace experts said.

The new entitlement, announced by President Sheikh Khalifa on Sunday, allows parents to take five days of paid leave within six months of the birth of their child.

Previously, companies in the private sector did not have to grant leave to new fathers, though some did so at their own discretion.

For new mothers it means an extra five days paid leave before returning to work.

Vijay Gandhi, a director with HR consultancy Korn Kerry, said the announcement was the latest indication that times are changing.

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This new law will also help to encourage more interest in private sector roles and support the long-term sustainability of the private sector

“There is a desire in the UAE to adopt more flexible working practices as that has been shown to lead to higher employee engagement and productivity,” he said.

“The last few months have shown us that remote working can be successful.

“The pendulum is definitely swinging towards having a better balance between productivity and flexibility.”

Sunday’s announcement was the latest in a series of changes in the workplace.

Earlier this month, public sector workers in Dubai were given the option of a flexible working model, allowing them to choose to begin work at any time between 6.30am and 8.30am. The move is expected to cut congestion and allow parents to take their children to school.

Government employees in Abu Dhabi and Dubai can also decide to work from home if their children were enrolled in distance learning.

Parents working in the public sector were this week allowed to take three hours off from work to take their children to and from school on Sunday, August 30, the first day of the new school year. It was not yet stated whether the new parental leave rules will extend to the public sector, where workers were already allowed to take three days off.

“In the last few weeks we have definitely seen a shift towards a more flexible model with the introduction of new laws around working remotely,” Mr Gandhi said.

“It’s not just about bridging the gap between the public and private sectors, but also to reduce the divide between male and female employees.

"There are still countries that are offering zero paternity leave in the Mena region."

Majid Al Futtaim, one of the country's largest employers, said the move would help to attract more Emiratis to the private sector.

"This new law will also help to encourage more interest in private sector roles, which will boost localisation efforts and support the long-term sustainability of the private sector in the UAE," said Mouien Al Madhoun, chief human capital officer at Majid Al Futtaim.

Louise Karim, managing director of recruitment agency Mums@work, said the move put the spotlight on the demands on families.

“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” she said.

“The last few months, with many having to work from home and children being taught remotely, have shown how much women typically have to take on.”

Ms Karim said the introduction of five days of parental leave would send a strong message about gender balance.

“A lot of multi-nationals already have parental leave policies in place,” she said.

“But there has been a bit of a struggle getting men to take this leave in the region. Culturally they are worried about being seen to take this leave.”

Ms Karim said the government’s stance had turned the focus on the realities of having to balance work and home life.

“Hopefully it will lead to a bit more understanding about the steps back that women have had to make with their careers.”

Ms Karim said the new policy was in keeping with the efforts of the UAE Gender Balance Council to address the difficulties many women face in the workplace.

Another employment expert said the new law surrounding parental leave could be in place as early as October.

"Many of the freezones in the UAE have already a policy of granting paternity leave," said Luke Tapp, an employment specialist at law firm Pinsent Masons Middle East.

"Not only is this the first federal decree about parental leave, it will also mean there is consistency across the different sectors in the country."