In brief:

  • The UAE Labour Law does not apply to all employees in the UAE as the law specifically excludes certain employees, such as employees of the Federal Government and Governmental Departments of the Member Emirates of the State.
  • A new law, the Dubai Human Resources Management Law applies to this excluded category of employees in the Emirate of Dubai.
  • The Dubai Human Resources Management Law has been welcomed as seeking to create a supportive work environment and to incorporate global standards for employees in the public sector.

Abstract

Since its formation in 1971, the UAE has become an international business hub and it is estimated approximately 85% of the working population are expatriate employees made up of some 200 nationalities. While the majority of employees work for privately owned companies which have been attracted to the UAE and have set up businesses here, there are a large number of Government sector employers where the primary workforce tends to be made up of UAE nationals.

Analysis

Most readers when considering Employment Law rights in the UAE will automatically think of the rights conferred by Federal Law No. 8/1980 (as amended) (UAE Labour Law).

However, UAE Labour Law does not apply to all employees in the UAE and it specifically excludes “officials, employees and workers of the Federal Government, Governmental Departments of the Member Emirates of the State, Officials, employees and workers of municipalities as well as other officials, employees and workers, working in Federal and local public Departments and organisations, as well as the officials, employees and workers appointed for Governmental Federal and Local Projects.

In this article, we consider the law which applies to this excluded category whose employment is governed by the appropriate Civil Service Law (either at Federal or Emirate level). In the case of Dubai, the law governing Government sector employees is commonly referred to as the Human Resources Management Law. However, in Abu Dhabi, it is known as the Law Concerning the Civil Service in Abu Dhabi (Civil Service Law). The Human Resources Management Law for the Government of Dubai, Dubai Law No. 27/2006 (Old HR Law) when introduced was considered an important step in the UAE's implementation of human resources policies and was introduced with a view to improving Government performance. As with many laws in this region it has evolved and been supplemented by the issuing of several accompanying resolutions, decrees and/or regulations over time.

What’s happened and why?

In July 2018, a revised version of the Old HR Law was announced-the Human Resources Management Law, Dubai Law No. 8/2018 (the “New HR Law”). When announced, it was hailed as bringing with it a raft of benefits. The New HR Law will replace the Old HR Law and also all of its accompanying laws, decrees and/or regulations to the extent that any provisions contained therein conflict with the New HR Law.

Who does the law apply to?

The New HR Law applies to employees working at the ‘Department’, with the Department being defined as “Governmental Departments, Public Bodies and Institutions, Councils and Authorities of the Government.”

Often there is a degree of uncertainty as to what is considered a “Government department” or “public body” (especially where the entity is quasi-governmental) as the terms “Government” or “private” are capable of broad interpretation. It is generally accepted the New HR Law should be applied to any public entity which is not set up for commercial purposes or where the founding decree states it is to be considered a public entity or funded by the Government.

What are the most significant changes?

Perhaps the most significant change is that the New HR Law increases certain employee benefits (it increases annual leave entitlement and time off for bereavement) and seeks to provide employees with more flexibility in terms of how they work (including remote working). Another benefit which has been gold-plated is the provision of the annual travel allowance which used to be offered to employees and up to three dependents under 18 and is now offered to employees and an unlimited number of children up to 21.

Summary of the Law and key changes

The New HR Law includes an introductory section which sets out guidance on the regulatory structure and objectives for the management and planning of the human resources elements of Governmental bodies. It also includes objectives like requiring the department to:

  1. Effectively design all functions so as to ensure these cover all assignments and develop a functional structure which fits with the competences and future plans of the department; and
  2. Develop the manpower budget to cover the required functions.

The New HR Law confirms the types of employment which are available including full-time, part time and temporary employees (temporary being appointments for under a year).

The New HR Law also addresses the employment of persons with disabilities and states employees will be provided with a working environment which suits their special needs in terms of equipment installations and working hours.

The New HR Law consolidates 11 existing laws, decrees, and resolutions and due to its length we cannot cover the full detail of the Law in this article. However, below are some of the key terms which are applicable or available to national civilian employees employed in the Department:

Probationary Period – any newly appointed employee must be subject to a probationary period of not less than three months and the probationary period may be extended once. However, where an employee is reappointed in the same department, they can be required to undergo a further probationary period (this differs from the position under UAE Labour Law where an employee may only ever be subject to one probationary period with any one employer).

Working hours – official working days and hours are confirmed as being Sunday to Thursday from 7.30am to 2.30pm (i.e. 35 hours a week). Additional hours may be agreed but these cannot exceed 45 hours in any working week or 48 hours where the work is carried out in shifts.

Ramadan Hours – the working week will be reduced to 25 hours a week (i.e. 10 hours less a week which reflects the position under UAE Labour Law).

Overtime – employees may apply for overtime allowance provided the overtime is approved by their direct line manager and the hours fall outside the official working hours. Overtime allowances will be paid at 125% of the employee’s basic salary for overtime which falls on an official working day and paid at 150% where it falls on a weekend or an official holiday.

Leave – perhaps of most interest is the wide range of leaves which an employee may take under the New HR Law which include the following:

  1. Annual Leave – (30 working days for employees at level 12 or above, 25 (increased from 22) working days for levels four to 11 and 18 (increased from 15) working days for employees at level three or below).
  2. Sick leave – subject to providing medical report as required by the Law, the maximum sick leave for a national employee is one year (on full salary for the first year and basic salary if there is a second year of leave) and three months for non-national employees. The Law also provides working hours may be reduced upon medical recommendation.
  3. Maternity, childbirth and caring leave-this remains as per Dubai Decree No. 14/2017 which, in short, is 90 days leave compared with 45 days under UAE Labour Law.
  4. Paternity leave – Three paid working days to be taken within a month of the birth.
  5. Bereavement leave – Five paid working days for a relative and 10 working days for the loss of a spouse.
  6. Period waiting after death leave – female Muslim employees will be entitled to four months’ paid leave following bereavement leave.
  7. Haj leave (Pilgrimage leave) – Muslim employees will be entitled to 15 working days once in their period of service to perform Haj.
  8. Participating in events leave – employees who participate in national teams, competitions or sports shall be entitled to leave of up to two months.
  9. Patient escort leave – paid leave of up to two or three months (depending on the availability of medical care available in the UAE) may be granted to enable employees to accompany a spouse or relative to seek medical care outside the UAE.
  10. Spouse accompanying leave – employees may be granted unpaid leave to accompany a spouse outside the UAE for official business, scholarship or for educational purposes.
  11. Educational leave – this may be granted to a full or part time employee for the period equal to the duration of the study programme. This is subject to the employee meeting certain criteria including being a UAE national and having service of at least two years.
  12. Unpaid leave – a general entitlement to offer unpaid leave of up to 60 days is expressly provided for.
  13. Performing national and reserve service leave – UAE nationals will be granted leave to perform national and reserve service and this period will count towards their continuous employment

Transfer – the New HR Law includes provisions relating to the transfer of employees internally and/or to other Governmental bodies.

Promotions – promotions are encouraged by reference to the employee’s performance.

Travel allowance – annual travel allowance for the employee and their family (including children under 21).

What’s the impact?

The New HR Law has been welcomed as seeking to create a supportive work environment and to incorporate global standards for employees in the public sector. The announcement of the New HR Law has been well received by employees who have commented it encourages internal promotion, increases leave entitlement and increases annual travel allowances for dependents which, for many expatriates, is an important benefit when their families live abroad.

What’s happening elsewhere in the region?

The introduction of more generous leave provisions, particularly in relation to maternity and parental leave, appears to have been done in the spirit of making the UAE more attractive from an employment perspective when compared with other more family friendly jurisdictions. In addition, the express reference to employing those with disabilities is in line with Dubai’s Disability Strategy 2020, which aims to provide equal rights and services to people with disabilities in Dubai by 2020.

What’s next?

As is often the case in this region, laws only become public once drafted and announced (unlike other jurisdictions where there might be a consultation period). Unfortunately, this means it can be difficult to predict what will come next after the introduction of the New HR Law and so we suggest a ‘watch this space’ approach.

(Pre-published on Lexis Nexis Middle East Law)