Part-time work legal under new permits

Ministry of Labour says housewives, university students will benefit most from regulatory changes.

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ABU DHABI // Employers, housewives and students have welcomed the introduction of what the Ministry of Labour says is the region’s first part-time work permit.

The move – included in the new labour laws that came into force at the start of January – opens up workplaces to many people who were previously prevented from working because permits were available for full-time jobs only.

This category includes many  housewives and university students, who can now take up jobs that fit their family or education commitments.

Humaid al Suwaidi, the undersecretary at the ministry, said the aim was to help more people join the workforce. “We have the people, we should make use of them before resorting to foreign labour,” he said. “Before there was only one option to work – just full time.

He said he expected some mothers in particular will find that part-time suits them much better.

Shamsa al Iryani, a 24-year-old Emirati mother of three from Al Ain, has been reluctant to work full time, but says she will now look for employment.

Rather than a job that finished late – many she had heard about ended  between 8pm and midnight, she said – a position that allowed her to work just in the mornings would be “great” – “especially now that I have kids.”

Not only would this change reduce unemployment and help families financially, she predicted, but also “it will resolve a lot of marriage problems that come from staying at home bored”.

Shaima al Sayed, a human resources and admin manager at NewYou, a marketing and IT consultancy in Dubai, and head of the Women’s Auto Racing Club, believes the new regulations are much needed.

“This is awesome news,” she said. “I go through [students’] CVs a lot and they want work because of the financial crisis, which is still affecting families.”

“And this goes both ways - for the students and for the organisations which sometimes want a part time employee.”

There has long been pressure for more flexibility in the work permit system.

Last summer, four-fifths (82 per cent) of UAE residents taking part in a YouGov Siraj survey for Al Aan TV said flexible working hours were important to them. The same survey found that three respondents in five (62pc) would value the option to work part time or to jobshare.

Noor Kamali, a 21-year-old Emirati, spent her final year in university also holding down a full-time job at Al Ain Municipality.

“It was really hard,” she said. “I worked for 11 hours – from 8am to 3pm at work, then from 5pm to 9pm at university.

“I had to take evening classes at uni so I could work in the morning. I wanted to work, I wanted the experience, but it was hard, sometimes it was almost impossible.”

A part-time job would have been better, she said. “The option would have been good to have.  A lot of people now that I know want to work, but don’t because they can’t take up full-day jobs – so this will encourage them.”

Fewer women work in the UAE than in almost any other country – for female participation in the workforce, the country ranks 125th out of 139 countries listed in The Global Competitiveness report 2010-2011, issued by the World Economic Forum.

While women are well represented in education in the country, overall they make up only 30 per cent of the total workforce.

In pure economic terms, paid work by women results in just 10 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Dr Abbas Mohamed, a sociology professor at UAE University, said this low ranking is a major economic obstacle.

Last week the ministry issued guidelines covering how the new law will be applied. Work permits will now be for two years, rather than the previous three, and are required for everyone over 18 and under 65. The part-time permits, however, will be valid for just a year.

Female dependents and students will not need a work permit, nor will the expatriate husbands and sons of Emirati women. However, employers are directed to give priority to UAE and GCC citizens.

Companies need to have a clean record of compliance with labour laws, and be registered in the wages protection system before they can hire part-time workers.

Part-time permits cost Dh500 per employee.