Working hours, annual leave and labour disputes are all covered by the UAE’s labour laws. Here are some of the main rules that will affect you.
It is illegal to go on strike or form a trade union, although steps are being taken to allow the ‘peaceful assembly’ of such groups by the Ministry of Labour.
Workers are entitled to 30 days annual leave after completing one year’s service. Prior to that you are allowed two days for every month, but you must have completed six months. There are also 10 paid public holidays each year.
Working hours are generally eight hours a day, but employees in the commercial sector (hotels, cafés, retail) can expect to work atleast nine hours a day.
Men and women can expect to get equal pay in Dubai.
Any employee who suffers an injury while doing their job will be eligible for compensation.
With the exception of certain conditions stipulated in your contract, you cannot be dismissed from your job without 30 days’ notice.
Time Out tip: If you’re asked to sign an employment contract in English and Arabic, get both copies compared by an independent source. If you go to court, it is the Arabic version that will take precedent.
Benefits & insurance
There is no minimum wage in the UAE and, as such, salaries in the same sector vary wildly. Your salary will be described to you in monthly not yearly terms, and it will be paid straight into your bank account. All jobs in the city will include some kind of benefits package because employers are required, by law, to offer some form of medical cover to their employees. Generally, this does not cover dental or gynecology costs. Quite a few employers also offer the cost of one flight home per year included in the package, or at least include this in your salary.
Under UAE law, employees are entitled to severance pay, called gratuity, upon termination of their employment, but only after a minimum of one year’s service. The reason for this is to compensate for the lack of a government pension scheme for expatriate workers. Exactly how much you get depends on your basic salary and the length of service, but this is the usual:
Up to three years – seven days’ basic pay for every year of service.
Three to five years – 14 days’ basic pay for every year of service.
More than five years – 21 days’ basic salary for every year of service up to five, and then 30 days for every extra year.
You will not get your gratuity if you leave before your contract period is complete, unless (as stated in Article 121 of the country's labour law) your employer assaults you, or fails to meet their side of the contract.
The UAE’s official maternity leave is one of the shortest in the world – just 45 days’ full pay after one year’s continuous service. A draft law to extend maternity leave to 45 days’ full pay and 55 days’ half pay was proposed more than four years ago, but it as yet remains to be approved and the country’s 1980 law still remains firmly in place. Under the rules the mother has to take the leave either directly before or after the birth. If you have been employed for less than a year you can claim 45 days, but on half pay. Paternity leave is even worse with leave of just three days.
Changing jobs in Dubai is now much easier. In the past, a company could block you from obtaining a visa with another firm and even ban you from re-entering the UAE if you left. While this is not really the case anymore, it’s still wise to remain on good terms with your employer, just incase.
If you leave your job you will need to do the following:
1 Provide 30 days’ written notice of your intention to leave unless your contract indicates otherwise.
2 Obtain a No Objection Certificate from your current employer, plus approval from your new sponsor and the Ministry of Labour.
3 It’s easier to transfer your visa if you work for a free zone company because, technically, it is the free zone that is your employer. If this does not apply to you, then you'll have to cancel your existing visa before applying for a new one.
4 To get a new visa for a non-free zone company, get the relevant forms from the UAE Ministry of Labour, get them typed in Arabic from the centres nearby, and stamped by both your previous and future employers. Then submit these forms, along with the trade licence and establishment card of your new company, to the Immigration Department. Your company’s human resources department should be able to arrange all this for you.
5 If your non-free-zone visa is cancelled before a set amount of time, your new employer may have to pay a fine for its remainder. For people with a masters or PhD it will be one year, with a bachelors degree or equivalent, it will be two years and they are only allowed to transfer twice. People with lower qualifications can only transfer once and have to have worked for at least three years.
6 Many women decide to stay on their husband's visa, even while working as it makes changing jobs less of a hassle. Some employers however frown on this (for the same reason) and will make you transfer to their sponsorship.
They’ve got my passport!
Regardless of what anyone says, your company is not allowed to withhold your passport for an extended period of time. You will have to hand it over in order for them to process your visa, but expect it back after a week or so, depending on how busy the local authorities are. If they don’t return it, demand to have it back, then approach the authorities.
Free zone or no free zone
The main advantage for working for a company in a free zone is the lack of red tape involved when changing jobs to another free zone company. As the free zone is your actual sponsor, there is no need to apply for a brand new visa, making the process much quicker. There are a number of free zones that exist, such as Dubai Media City, Dubai Healthcare City, or Jebel Ali, but they can exist elsewhere, so just check with your employer that they fall under a free zone. They aim to attract foreign investment and so companies that operate within them are treated as being offshore, or outside the UAE for legal purposes.
Losing your job
You are still entitled to gratuity (equal to three months’ salary) if you are fired from your job, as long as it is not for one of these reasons.
Assuming a false identity or nationality and submitting 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. Although your employer must submit evidence of this to the Ministry of Labour within 48 hours of the contract termination.
Disobeying key safety instructions, which causes a risk to other workers in the company.
Defaulting on basic duties stated in your contract, and failing to redress such duties following an official warning.
If you are convicted of a crime against honour, honesty or public morals in a court.
Revealing confidential information relating to your employer.
Being drunk or under the influence of drugs during work hours.
Assaulting a manager or workmate during working hours.
Being absent from work without good reason for more than 20 non-consecutive days in a year, or more than seven consecutive days.
Time Out tip: Even if the company shuts down, you are still entitled to gratuity and outstanding holiday pay. You can easily file a claim with the Ministry of Labour if your employer refuses to pay your dues.
If you are going through a dispute with your employer, whether it's regarding pay or abuse, you can lodge a complaint within one year with the Ministry of Labour (04 2668967; www.mol.gov.ae) who will investigate the claims and take necessary action.
You might want to hire a lawyer, but their fees can be expensive and, bear in mind that, if the court rules in favour of your employer, then you will have to bear their costs too. Also, it's a good idea to contact your embassy for advice.