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Working in the UAE

Know Your Rights — Labor Law in the UAE

Dealing with official work documents abroad can be intimidating, especially when they are written in a foreign tongue. Familiarizing yourself with things like probation periods, working hours, and maternity leave will make you feel a lot more secure.

  • Knowledge is power when it comes to labor law in the UAE, and reading up on the basics will save you from contract pitfalls in the future.  
  • The UAE has some gender-specific labor laws, as well as specific stipulations about non-nationals terminating contracts.

UAE Labor Law 101

If the job search in the UAE has been difficult, you might not be surprised to find that you’re at the bottom of the UAE’s employment hierarchy: jobs will first go to UAE nationals, then to nationals of Arab states, and, finally, to other nationalities. However, this Emiratization initiative has yet to make a significant dent in the incredibly large foreign-born workforce in the UAE where over 85% of the population comes from abroad.

The UAE takes the concept of casual Fridays to a new level: the workweek in the UAE runs from Sunday to Thursday, leaving Friday free for Muslim employees to attend prayer on Islam’s holy day. You can work a maximum of 48 hours per week, with an 8-hour day being the longest permissible period under the law. During Ramadan, two hours are taken off the workweek.

As for wages, the Ministry of Labor has not set a minimum wage, nor is there any kind of regulation regarding allowances offered by employers. When it comes to these two forms of income, you’ll need to put your negotiating hat on. Keep in mind that any allowances you negotiate are separate from your basic wage, which is used to calculate any end-of-service gratuities.

There are a few areas, usually free zones, which have drawn up their own set of rules. The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has the most extensive legislation of all, making the UAE labor code practically obsolete in this area.

Some free zones will also have some regulations of their own, but as these are not as extensive as the DIFC ones, they generally still abide by the UAE labor laws. The main difference often lies in the fact that some of these areas write up their own contract while others use the standard one issued by the Ministry of Labor.

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Taking a Gendered Approach to UAE Law

Labor law in the UAE dedicates a chapter to women in the workforce. This chapter covers things like maternity leave, but also what kind of work environment is appropriate for women. For example, women are not allowed to be employed at night — between 22:00 and 07:00. On top of this, “hazardous, strenuous or physically or morally harmful jobs are prohibited”. Check out Title Two of the UAE Labor Law to find out more on the subject.

Maternity leave is another hot topic when it comes to the female workforce. The employee is entitled to paid maternity leave if she has worked for her respective employer for at least one year. You get 45 days of fully paid maternity leave, to be divided between the periods before and after the birth as you please. Once you are back in the office, the UAE labor code stipulates that two “resting periods” per day — no longer than 30 minutes — are allowed for 18 months following delivery. The details of said resting periods should be discussed with your employer.

Signing on the Dotted Line

Your contract will either be for a fixed or undetermined period of time. The maximum length of a fixed, or determined, contract is four years. If you have an undetermined contract, the notice period — for both parties — is 30 days.

Probation periods should not be longer than six months. During this time, your contract can be ended either by you or your employer without any notice. You will not receive any end-of-service gratuity if you quit before the probation period is over.

When you are given the choice of signing a contract with a determined or undetermined term, it is worth thinking ahead to a situation in which you might want, or need, to break the contract. The repercussions of leaving your employer prematurely differ depending on the contract. Should you end a determined contract, you will have to compensate your employer for the loss. This compensation will, at most, be equal to half a month’s wages for three months, or for the remaining period of the contract, whichever is shortest.

Are you planning a long-term stay in the UAE? Then keep in mind that, as a non-national, if you break a determined contract, you cannot be re-hired in the UAE for at least a year. This also applies to workers with an undetermined contract who want to start a new job before the notice period at their previous job has passed. The only exception applies to those who have obtained permission from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs; permission from your current employer will not suffice.  

Updated on: December 06, 2018

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