Basics of labor legislation in the UAE

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In the United Arab Emirates, around 80% of the workforce consists of foreigners. The rapid development and economic stability of the Middle Eastern state attract immigrants from all over the world. Knowledge of the basics of labor legislation in the UAE is a necessary condition for successful employment of citizens of other countries.

Working Conditions in the UAE

A rapidly developing country offers a wide range of diverse vacancies from construction to tourism. More than three-quarters of the workforce in the UAE are foreign specialists from various countries. Their rights and obligations are mainly regulated by the same provisions of labor legislation as those for citizens of the country, but there are differences. For example, if both a UAE citizen and a foreigner apply for a position, the employer must hire a local worker.

Labor legislation in the UAE prohibits workers from forming unions and striking. All industrial disputes are handled by the immigration service and the Ministry of Labor of the UAE. If one of the parties to the conflict is dissatisfied with the verdict of these authorities, they can appeal it in court.

For immigrants from non-Muslim countries, it is important to remember the laws of Sharia, according to which the country lives. It is mandatory to follow the following rules:

  • Respect religion;
  • Observe the prohibition on public consumption of alcohol and being drunk in public;
  • Adhere to the rules of the sacred month of Ramadan (it is forbidden to eat and drink publicly from dawn to dusk);
  • Do not ignore certain dress codes for public places, especially relevant for women.

Regulatory Framework of Labor Law in the UAE

Until recently, the basis of labor legislation in the UAE was Federal Law No. 8 "On Labor Relations" of 1980, which met the basic requirements of international law. As the labor market changed, amendments and adjustments were made to it.

The social and economic development of the country necessitated the adoption of a new legislative act. This was the Federal Decree-Law No. 33, approved in September 2021, which came into effect in all emirates in February 2022. The document not only clearly regulates the rights and obligations of employers and employees but also includes, for example, the following rules and requirements:

  • Prohibits any discrimination in access to employment based on race, religion, and other characteristics;
  • Prohibits all types of violence against employees - from verbal intimidation to sexual harassment;
  • Expands women's rights;
  • Introduces new forms of employment - part-time work (working for a specified number of hours), temporary employment (for a specified period to perform a specified amount of work), flexible employment (adjusting working hours as circumstances require). Other forms may be introduced;
  • Abolishes indefinite contracts and sets the maximum duration of a fixed-term contract to 2 years;

Prohibits the confiscation of passports or other official documents of foreigners;

Specifies the duties of the employee, including requirements to perform their work qualitatively, observe labor ethics, maintain trade secrets, and improve qualifications;

Specifies measures for labor protection.

Experts evaluate Law No. 33/2021 as timely and well-thought-out, balancing the regulation of relations between employers and employees.

Conditions for Admission of Foreigners

To work legally in the country, a foreign national requires a work visa – an Employment Visa. Obtaining it allows the potential employee a 60-day stay in the UAE. During this period, the foreigner needs to sign a contract with the employer company and, based on it, obtain a labor card and an employment visa (Employment Visa).

Attempting to work on a tourist visa or transit visa is a violation of the law. Both the employee and the employer are punished for such activities. Compliance with labor legislation is under the supervision of regulatory authorities.

Establishment of Labor Relations

To hire a foreigner, a labor contract is concluded with them according to a template developed and approved by the Ministry of Labor. The contract is drawn up in two languages – Arabic and English. It must be attested by the Ministry of Labor.

Federal Decree-Law No. 33/2021 abolished previously used indefinite contracts. It allows for the conclusion of employment contracts for up to 2 years with the possibility of extension or renewal by agreement of the parties. Early termination of the contract by either party with prior notice of 30 days is possible.

After signing the contract, the employee undergoes a mandatory medical examination. In case of a positive conclusion, the foreigner receives a work visa and a labor card (Labour Card).

According to the law, hiring expenses (document processing) are paid by the employer organization.

Employment Visa

Obtaining an Employment Visa gives the employee the right to reside in the UAE, freely move around the country and beyond its borders, and the possibility to rent real estate.

It is issued for two years but can be canceled and prematurely terminated in situations established by law, for example:

  • deportation decision;
  • dismissal;
  • departure for more than six months.
  • Probation Period

The labor legislation of the UAE provides for a probationary period for a new employee of no more than six months. A foreign specialist should be aware that during this period, the employer can dismiss them at any time. However, according to Law No. 33/2021, notice of impending dismissal must be given no later than 14 days.

If the employee does not want to complete the probationary period, they are obliged to notify the employer of the impending dismissal no later than two weeks in advance.

Working Hours in the UAE

The maximum duration of the working day is 8 hours, and the working week is 48 hours. In hotels, shopping malls, security services, and restaurants, the working shift can last 9 hours. Government agencies have a five-day workweek with Fridays and Saturdays off. Private enterprises can adjust the working hours, but Friday should remain a day off.

The law allows for overtime work, but not more than 2 hours per day and not more than 144 hours over three weeks (except for emergencies and other force majeure situations). Overtime during nighttime (22:00–04:00) is paid with an increase in the base salary by at least one and a half times, while daytime overtime is paid at a rate of 1.25.

Work on a day off is also paid at one and a half times the salary or compensated with rest on another day.

Foreign workers have rest during UAE public holidays – New Year, Independence Day, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, and others – with the preservation of their salaries.

Payment for Vacations

According to Law No. 33/2021, each employee is entitled to an annual paid leave of 30 calendar days provided there is continuous employment throughout the year. A mandatory condition is that the leave cannot be postponed; it must be used in the leave year. The vacation date is coordinated with the employer, who has the right to divide the vacation into two parts, but not more.

The same law introduced new categories of leaves:

  • maternity and childbirth leave – 45 days at full pay plus 15 days at 50% pay;
  • childcare leave – 5 days for both parents;
  • educational leave for taking exams – 10 days provided the employee has worked in the company for two years;
  • bereavement leave for close relatives – 3–5 days.

The right to paid sick leave is granted to foreign workers after passing the probationary period. It is necessary to confirm the illness with an official statement from the medical commission on incapacity for work. Payment is maintained in full for the first 15 days, then half of the salary is paid for 30 days, and subsequent days are not paid.

Medical Insurance

State medical insurance is mandatory for every UAE citizen. The basics of labor legislation at the federal level do not provide for mandatory insurance for foreigners. However, in certain emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai), laws have already been enacted requiring employers to provide mandatory insurance for labor migrants and their family members. Similar mechanisms are being developed in other emirates.

Termination of Employment Contract upon Expiry

Federal Decree-Law No. 33/2021 regulates the termination of employment contracts while observing the rights of employers and employees. Contracts can be concluded for a maximum of two years, and by mutual agreement of the parties, they can be extended an unlimited number of times.

After the contract expires, the employee has the right to move to a new job. For a foreigner who has worked for at least a year, the employer must pay an end-of-service gratuity. Its amount is calculated based on the basic salary. For the first five years of employment in the company, the gratuity is paid for 21 days, and for each subsequent year, it is paid for 30 days.

Early Termination of Employment Contract

According to Law No. 33/2021, the employment contract is concluded for a fixed term. However, both the employer and the employee retain the right to terminate it early. A mandatory condition for this is prior notification, submitted within 30 to 90 days. In case of non-compliance with labor discipline or other gross violations of the fundamentals of labor legislation stipulated by the law, the employer has the right to dismiss the unscrupulous employee without notice.

If the contract is terminated early at the initiative of the employer, they are obliged not only to notify the employee of the dismissal but also to provide one unpaid day off each week for job hunting.

If the early termination is initiated by the employee who wants to move to a new job, they must notify the employer of this at least one month in advance.

Early termination of the employment contract may result in a six-month ban on employment in the UAE. If the contract is terminated by mutual agreement, this ban does not apply. If serious violations of labor legislation by the employee are the reason for early termination, the ban on employment is extended to one year.

Seek Professional Help

The United Arab Emirates attract specialists from different countries with a wide range of job opportunities and decent wages. However, not knowing the basics of labor legislation of a foreign country can lead to serious problems in finding and securing employment. Avoiding mistakes can be facilitated by seeking consultation from experienced professionals at The Level Consulting consulting company. Experts can help resolve disputes, if any, and prepare to comply with all norms and customs. Responsibility for violating laws in the UAE is strict, so it is essential to follow the established rules.

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