A high foreign workforce forms the backbone of the UAE's economy, and it's a wonderful place to meet and work with many nationalities – as well as earn a tax free salary!
Whether you're starting a new job or setting up a business, it's essential to get up to speed and stay up-to-date on the UAE Labour Law.
The law, which outlines information on employee entitlements, employment contracts and disciplinary rules, is employer friendly but clearly outlines employee rights.
If you find yourself in the situation where you have not been paid (including women on maternity leave), you can file a case with the UAE Labour Department which will take the necessary action. You could also get a lawyer to deal with the claim on your behalf. Although lawyers are expensive in the UAE, the employer will have to bear the cost if the case is settled in your favour.
If you decide to leave a company before the end of your contract you will require permission from your existing employer in the form of an NOC. Your employer will also need to cancel your residence visa. Before January 2016, anyone working in the private sector who breaks their contract could face a six month ban from working for any other company in the UAE. This has now been lifted as long as you have the company’s consent to leave. If you have been in a role for less than six months, however, you could still face a ban.
Anyone leaving the country or their job permanently without informing their employer will be classed as ‘absconding’, and any applications from a new employer for a residence visa and labour card will be refused. Also, if you leave the country or are unaccountable for seven days in a row or 20 days in total, your company can terminate your employment contract without awarding you gratuity pay or any outstanding benefits.
If the company you work for closes, you are still entitled to outstanding holiday pay and gratuity, but you'll need an attested certificate of closure before you can transfer your visa. If you are made redundant, you have a standard 30 day grace period within which to leave the country before incurring any fines for overstaying your visa; if you have a good relationship with your company, you should have room to negotiate the terms under which you are leaving.
You can download a copy of UAE Labour Law from the Ministry of Labour website mol.gov.ae. The document has not been fully updated for some time but amendments and additions are often posted on the site.
Anyone working in the UAE needs a permit to work, which is typically applied for by your company's PRO after the residence visa has been approved.
Obtaining the permit
Employees working outside a free zone will receive an electronic labour card, processed by the Ministry of Labour. If you work in a free zone, however, you will receive a free zone ID, which is processed by the free zone authority and can be ready in as little as 24 hours. Both cards feature your photo and details of your employer. The labour card costs Dhs.1,000 (paid for by your company) and is valid for as long as your residence visa is. A free zone ID is valid for either one, two or three years.
You will need to sign your labour contract before your labour card/free zone ID is issued. This contract is printed in both Arabic and English.
If you are sponsored by your husband or wife on a family visa, you can still legally work. Your employer will simply need to apply for your labour card; you will need an NOC from your sponsor as well as your passport with residence visa, your sponsor’s passport and your attested education certificates. Non-GCC nationals who are above 18 years of age can now enter the UAE on a short-term work permit which is valid for 60 days; these can be extended/renewed up to six times (subject to a fee and bank guarantee).
Whether you are working here for the first time or switching jobs, you will be asked to sign an employment contract before joining the company.
The contract is a legally binding agreement that should be written in both Arabic and English. It should list the starting date, type of employment, location, terms and conditions, duration and the salary. There is often confusion over the offer letter and the contract. An offer letter should give details of the terms of the job you are being offered, such as salary, leave, hours and other benefits; if you accept the terms of this offer, it becomes a legally binding contract. An employment contract can be terminated if both parties agree, provided that the employee’s written consent is given; the employer will then need to cancel your residence visa.
Working hours differ dramatically between companies and the maximum number of hours permitted per week according to UAE Labour Law is 48, although some industries, such as hospitality and retail, have longer stipulated hours. Friday is the Islamic holy day and therefore a day off for offices and schools.
Annual holiday starts at one calendar month per year, roughly 22 working days. Public holidays are set by the government, while the timing of religious holidays depends on the sighting of the moon. Probation periods can be set for a maximum of six months. Some companies delay the residency process until the probation period is up, which can make settling in difficult – no residency means you can’t sponsor family members, buy a car or get a bank loan.
Under UAE Labour Law, women are entitled to 45 days maternity leave, on full pay (or 60 days in Sharjah), once they’ve completed one year of continuous service; fathers are not entitled to paternity leave. While on sick leave, the first 15 days are with full pay, the next 30 days are with half pay, and any subsequent days are unpaid.
Check your employment contract online at mol.gov.ae.