Get a grip on labour laws, working hours, and the red tape wrapped around your new job in the UAE
Time Out Dubai staff
For professional, skilled labour jobs, employers tend to advertise and recruit from abroad, or headhunt known talents locally. Often, new positions are not advertised locally. So, even if you’re already in the UAE, search foreign job sites, such as www.jobs.guardian.co.uk and www.monster.com. Local dailies, such as the Gulf News and Khaleej Times, list general office and service industry jobs. The publisher www.itp.com (which publishes Time Out Dubai) has a number of business magazines that carry local recruitment advertising within specific industries. TEN Jobs (www.jobs.theemiratesnetwork.com) is increasingly popular and boasts regular updates and a reasonable search engine.
Unfortunately, many local agencies are less-than impressive. Social networking is often the best way to get ahead, followed by approaching firms directly. If you’re happy to cast the net wide, however, you could do worse than contact a Dubai-based recruitment agency. Ensure you are paired with an agent who understands your skills and salary expectations. Be realistic, but be clear; you may otherwise find yourself fobbed off with inappropriate interviews and unsatisfactory salary offers. Whether you’re assured that you are in expert hands or not, keep up your own search alongside any contact with agencies.
Once you sign a formal contract, that contract is legally binding. Benefits and requirements – such as probation, housing, leave, trips home, insurance, required notice, and expenses involved in moving back home – often vary widely even within the same company, so you should read your contract carefully before signing. In the event of a dispute, this contract will be vital. If you’re asked to sign a copy in Arabic, have an independent representative compare it to the English version because, if you ever have to go to court, the Arabic version will take precedent.
According to UAE law, you should be entitled to an end-of-service gratuity; you may forfeit this money, however, if you quit your job before the contracted date or if you are fired. There is often a probationary period of three or six months written into employment contracts, during which time you may not be entitled to sick or annual leave. If you choose to leave your job, you will need to provide 30 days notice unless your contract indicates otherwise.
The official working week in the UAE is Sunday to Thursday. Government offices are usually open Saturday to Thursday from 7.30am-2.30pm. Private offices tend to keep longer hours. Depending on the sector and type of work, some people come back to work in the evening after a lengthy midday break, while most others operate from 9am-6pm.
As lots of companies and offices are open on Saturdays, many workers have a six-day working week. Generally, Western expats have a five-day working week written into their contracts, but it’s best to make sure that your contract clarifies this. Be very wary of any company that says they’ll only show you the contract when you arrive in the UAE.
There is no minimum wage in the UAE. There are very few companies that pay wages weekly; from labourers to young professionals, most work for a pre-determined salary, paid directly into your bank monthly.
The average skilled labourer will normally make between Dhs2,000 (US$548) and Dhs4,000 (US$1,096) per month. Service industry staff, often brought in from Asia, Europe and South Africa, are paid on average a salary between Dhs1,500 and Dhs5,000 per month. However, these wages are often bolstered by accommodation, medical insurance and meals. White collar salaries in the UAE more commonly reach into double figures (between say Dhs10,000 and Dhs20,000 per month), but vary considerably between companies, industries and even nationalities. It’s worth remembering that if you’re seeking a family sponsorship visa you need to earn over Dhs4,000 per month.
Europeans and North Americans regularly earn more than Arab and Asian expats in the same role. Until recently, one business magazine carried an annual survey in which salaries were divided by job type in four different tables; GCC nationals, Westerners, Arab expats and Asians. Average discrepancies in white collar roles could be as much as 50 per cent. Primarily, this is because Westerners have more options at home, and can demand more to be tempted away. But, an element of old fashioned discrimination remains, and can cause understandable umbrage.
Reports of unskilled workers going unpaid for a prolonged period are distressingly common. Although examples of Western expats suffering the same fate are far less so, it is not unusual for companies to withhold money owed to ex-employees. It tends to be smaller, locally based firms, but it does happen (as does late payment, sometimes running to months of arrears). Fighting this phenomenon is notoriously difficult, so be sure to investigate the company’s reputation where you can, perhaps by asking your peers. You can take your case to the Ministry of Labour but don’t hold your breath.
According to UAE law, you are entitled to 30 days of leave per year on completion of one year of service, and 10 days off as per the public holiday schedule. Muslims are also entitled to 30 days of unpaid leave in order to fulfill Hajj responsibilities. Friday is the official weekend day off; if you are required to work on Friday, you must be given an alternate day off.
Though strikes and trade unions are illegal in Dubai, you should expect certain rights. Men and women should receive equal pay for equal work, employees are entitled to compensation for injuries sustained in the workplace (within certain guidelines) and, with the exception of certain limited conditions, you cannot be dismissed without 30 days’ notice. In the event of a labour dispute, complaints can be lodged within one year with the Ministry of Labour, which provides mediation and reconciliation committees. You may want to hire a lawyer, which can be expensive, but if the courts or the Supreme Arbitration Committee finds in your favour, your employer will have to bear that cost. Your embassy should be able to advise you.
According to Article 30 of the UAE Labour Law, once married mothers working in the private sector have completed one year of continuous service they are entitled to 45 days on full pay to be used directly before or after the birth. Mothers who have been with their employer for less than a year can claim 45 days on half pay, and fathers in the public sector are entitled to three days of paternity leave – just enough time to hand out the cigars, then. According to UAE law, unwed mothers will likely face prosecution and deportation if reported to the authorities, in which case unmarried mothers should (obviously) not seek maternity leave. Private companies may have their own maternity policies.
If your company asks to keep your passport long term, say ‘no’. Despite what your dogged Human Resources manager may tell you, no company has the legal authority to keep possession of your passport. Your company will need it for a few days in order to have your visa stamped for approval, and this process can take longer when local authorities become swamped. But if your company holds your passport for any longer, you should demand it back.
When applying for skilled and professional jobs, your education certificates may need to be attested. Generally, the HR manager or equivalent at your company will ask you for the original certificates – not a copy. This is normal procedure, but be warned, it’s quite common for authorities to fold and stamp your certificate. Be sure to explain clearly that they should not do this and you can attach a copy of your certificate for them to stamp if necessary.
Despite the relative health of Dubai ’s economy, if the company you work for does close, you are still entitled to receive your gratuity and holiday pay. If you haven’t received all the pay and benefits owed you, you can file a dispute with the Ministry of Labour and request a transfer of sponsorship to a new employer. If you are unable to find another job, however, your visa will be cancelled and you will have to leave the country.
If you’ve completed one year at your company, you are entitled to an end-of-service gratuity payment once you leave. This amounts to seven days of basic pay for each year up to three years. For three to five years, you get 14 days of basic salary for every year of service. For those that clock up more than five years, it’s 21 days of basic salary for every year of service up to five, and 30 days of basic pay for every extra year.
Those on a fixed-term contract should have their gratuity arrangements spelled out in that. However, if you leave your company before the contract period is over, you are not entitled to any money, unless (as stated in Article 121 of the labour law) your employer either assaults you, or fails to meet their side of the contract. According to Article 120 of the labour law, your gratuity can be withheld if you are laid off.
Losing your job
Article 120 of UAE federal law states the legal reasons for termination. If you have not been laid off for one of these reasons, your service will be deemed to have been arbitrarily terminated by the employer. You should therefore receive a payment equal to three months’ salary.
These reasons are: • If you, the employee, assume a false identity or nationality and submit forged certificates or documents. • If you are still on the agreed probationary period stipulated in your contract. • If you commit a fault resulting in financial loss to the employer. However, the employer must send evidence that this has happened to the Ministry within 48 hours of the contract termination. They can not submit it after that time. • The employee disobeys instructions on safety in the workplace, and causes a risk to other workers. These instructions must be in writing and posted clearly. • The employee defaults on basic duties, as stated on the contract, and fails to redress such duties following an official warning. The agreed disciplinary process may differ from company to company – but there must be a warning from your employer. A verbal warning is hard to prove. It should be in writing. • If you are convicted of a crime against honour, honesty or public morals in a court. • The employee reveals any of their employer’s confidential information. • If you are found in a state of drunkenness or under the influence of a narcotic drug during working hours. • The employee assaults a manager or workmates during working hours. • The employee absents himself from work without good reason for more than 20 non-consecutive days in a year, or more than seven consecutive days.
If you haven’t committed any of the above and haven’t received correct payment, you should not sign letter of termination. Then, go and speak to your employer. Don’t go in guns blazing, as that never helps matters. Just have your rights, from articles 120-123 of UAE Federal law, at the ready.
If you work in a free zone you have access to free legal advice. Ask to speak to a labour disputes person, who will clarify your rights for you. If you then wish to make a complaint against your employer, they will write it out for you on the authority’s letterhead paper and forward it to them via email or fax. Your company will then have seven days to answer the complaint. In most cases, if an employee complains that a company has broken federal law, they will back down and hand over pay. If they don’t, the free zone’s authoritative body will demand they do. The authoritative body will then take them to court and make a complaint against their trade licence.
If you work in a commercial zone, you can go to the Ministry yourself. However, they don’t tend to write many letters. You can also go to the police and launch a complaint – a letter from the bailiffs will then be sent to the company.
If you’re an expat who’s been arbitrarily dismissed and your company cannot prove that you will find another job, they are obligated to pay for your flight home. They also have to pay gratuity and for any holiday not taken. During your notice period they must also provide for your medical and, if it was included in your employment contract, your car.
Many human resources departments either aren’t aware of these rights, or don’t pass them on as they are afraid for their own jobs. One more suggestion is to move all your finances offshore as soon as possible. If you originally opened a bank account with a letter from your company they will have to inform the bank that your contract has been terminated and your account and all your funds will then be frozen.
If you are fired or made redundant without 30 days’ notice, your employer must provide you with one month’s salary and a flight home. At time of press, there was no legally stipulated minimum period of employment that an employee must accrue in order to enjoy these rights. However, while employee rights in the UAE are evolving, it’s worth reiterating the fact that recompense is notoriously difficult to come by – in practice, UAE law still does not fully (reliably) protect ex-employees.
Changing jobs is easier than it once was. Previously, any firm you were leaving could block you getting a residence visa with a new firm, and ban you from re-entering the UAE if you ever left. September 2005 saw the government pass a law stating that you may change sponsors providing you have served a specified period of time with your original employer. Those holding a PhD or MA have to work for one year, those who have a BA or equivalent must work for two years, while those with anything less must work for three years.
Before taking a new job, you will need a ‘no objection certificate’ from your current employer plus approval from your new sponsor and the Ministry of Labour. You may need to meet other conditions, such as holding a valid residence visa. People working in the free zones are far less likely to be hit with a ban, although it is possible. Most employers have now realised the negative connotations that come with a reputation as a ‘banning’ firm, but that doesn’t mean that some won’t try. When you move on, your former company must supply your new employer with a no objection certificate in order for your move to be completed. The ease with which they do this may well depend on the manner in which you leave, so ease off the flaming emails..
Employers are legally required to offer some form of medical insurance. Usually dental isn’t covered in healthcare plans, but employees should be able to negotiate a better level of cover with their employers, or opt to pay more to get addiitional insurance.
Dubai has an excellent range of hospitals, doctors and dentists. (For more details about your employer’s obligation and more comprehensive information about healthcare in Dubai.