New UAE labor laws announced, changes made to safeguard employees’ rights

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The President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has issued a new decree to regulate labor relations in the private sector with sweeping changes aimed at safeguarding employees’ rights, it was announced on Monday.

The law applies to part-time and temporary work in the private sector, with changes affecting maternity and paternity leave, hiring teenagers, discrimination in the workplace and equal pay, among others.

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Dr. Abdulrahman al-Awar, UAE Minister of Human Resources and Emiratization, said in a media briefing that the new law is part of the government’s efforts to create a flexible and competitive work environment as the UAE prepares to embark on its journey towards the next 50 years.

“We aim to create an environment that attracts talents and competencies from all over the world and enhance the future skills of workers, at the same time providing a stimulating and attractive working environment for employers,” al-Awar said.

Flexible working

A critical change is the introduction of new forms of work under the law, which includes part-time work, temporary work, and flexible work.

Al-Awar said work models would also cover freelancing, condensed working weeks, shared job models, and self-employment.

“In the condensed working week, employees can choose to finish their 40 hours in three days instead of one week as per the contract signed by both parties,” said Al Awar.

The shared-job model allows two people to share the same job and split the pay based on an agreement with the employer.

This article grants employees the flexibility to work on a project, hourly, or for different employers while enabling employers to harness different talents and competencies at lower operational costs.

Under the new law, employers cannot confiscate employees’ official documents.

Workers also should not be forced to leave the country after the end of the work term.

The law provides that the employer shall bear the fees and expenses of recruitment and employment and shall not recover them directly or indirectly from the employee.

Employees are entitled one day paid off with the possibility of increasing weekly rest days at the discretion of the company.

Compassionate leave, maternity pay

They can also receive a range of leave days, including mourning leave that range between 3-5 days depending on the degree of kinship of the deceased, in addition to the five-day parental leave and other leave days set by the cabinet.

Following two years of work with an employer, workers are entitled to a 10-day study leave per year if they are enrolled in an accredited institution within the UAE.

Maternity leave in the private sector can extend to 60 days: 45 days with full wage, followed by 15 days on half wage. New mothers are eligible to receive additional 45 days without pay leave once they finish their initial maternity leave period in case of any post-partum complications or ailment in the newborn. They will have to provide supportive documents to apply sick leave.

UAE flag flies over a boat at Dubai Marina, Dubai, United Arab Emirates May 22, 2015. (File photo: Reuters)
UAE flag flies over a boat at Dubai Marina, Dubai, United Arab Emirates May 22, 2015. (File photo: Reuters)

As per the new law, teenagers are not allowed to work more than six hours a day with one-hour break and should be allowed to work only after submitting a written consent of a guardian and a medical fitness report.

Teenagers are not allowed to work on shifts from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. or engage in risky jobs that can cause harm to their physical health, ethics and well-being.

Working overtime

Under the new law, it is prohibited for employees to work over five consecutive hours without at least one-hour break. No more than two hours of overtime are allowed in one day for workers.

Should the nature of the job require more than two hours overtime, employees must receive an overtime wage equivalent to regular hour pay with a 25 per cent increase.

If conditions required employees to work overtime between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., they are entitled to an overtime wage equivalent to regular hour pay with a 50 percent increase. People on a shift basis are exempted from this rule.

Terminating employees

According to the new laws, private sector companies cannot terminate employees during probation without a 14-day written notice.

Under the Federal Law No. 33 of 2021 regulating labor relations, terminating an employee during probation period, which should not exceed six months, must be done in writing 14 days before termination.

Under the new laws, employers cannot extend the six-month probation period.

Once the probation is successfully completed, employees are to work under the conditions of the contract, while including the probation period as part of the overall service.

Article 74 of the decree-law also stipulates that the employer may not use any means that would force the worker or threaten him or her with any penalty or force him or her to work for the employer or force him or her to provide a service against his or her will.

Sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace

The new decree-law prohibits sexual harassment, bullying or any form of verbal, physical or psychological violence against a worker by the employer, his or her superiors at work or colleagues.

The law also prohibits all forms of discriminations based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, social origin or disability among persons that would weaken possibilities of equal opportunity, prejudice equal access to or continuation of employment and enjoyment of rights.

The amendments also reflected gender equality, with emphasis on granting women the same wage as men if they are doing the same work or work of equal value.

The law has also been updated to reflect the currency in which employees are paid. It states that companies should have the flexibility to pay wages in UAE dirhams or in any other currency, according to the agreement between the two parties in the work contract.

The decree-law also permits the employer to prohibit the worker from competing with the employer or participate in any competing project in the same sector, if the work entrusted to the worker allows him or her to know the employer’s clients or access his or her trade secrets — provided that the condition is specified in terms of time, place and type of work to the extent necessary to protect legitimate business interests and the period of noncompetition shall not exceed two years from the date of contract expiry.

The decree-law specifies fixed-term contract (limited) as one not exceeding three years, and it is permissible, by agreement between the two parties, to extend or renew this contract for a similar or lesser duration once or more.

The new labor laws will be effective from February 2, 2022.

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