On 7 June 2014, the president of the UAE introduced a law providing for compulsory military service for all male Emiratis between the ages of 18 and 30. The law will come into effect 180 days from its publication in the Legal Gazette on 29 May 2014.

National Service Law & its implications

Federal Law No. 6 of 2014, or the “National Service Law” (the Law) has been one of the most interesting laws introduced in the UAE in 2014. Its enactment coincides with political upheaval across the Arab world, and it is designed to encourage loyalty and service to the Federation of the UAE.

The Law applies only to UAE nationals and is mandatory for males, but optional for females provided that permission from their guardians is obtained. Three other conditions must also be satisfied:

  • the individual must be: between the ages of 18 and 30;
  • medically fit; and
  • receive approval from the National and Reserve Service Committee to serve.

National service is defined as “…service which must be performed for the sake of the country by such person resolved to be recruited for a period of time …” which can be performed at the following institutions: the Armed Forces and the Ministry, the Ministry of Interior, the State Security Agency and other authorities or institutions of the military as per resolutions issued by the Deputy Supreme Commander.

A key feature of the Law is the link between duration of service and educational qualifications. An individual’s period of service will be as follows:

  • two years for those without a high school diploma; or
  • nine months for those with a high school diploma but no higher qualification. 

There are also exceptions detailed below.  The service term for females is fixed at nine months, and is independent of their level of education. 

There are two permanent exemptions permitted by the Law: individuals who are either:

  • permanently medically unfit; or
  • the only son of a mother or father.

Temporary exemptions also apply for

  • a son who is providing for his mother or father;
  • the provider of a father who is unable to earn a living;
  • several other categories whereby the individual is a provider for his brother(s), sister(s), ascendants or descendants; and
  • finally persons serving a custodial sentence.

National service is also postponed for students until they obtain the relevant qualification, on the basis that they are less than 29 years old and have obtained a high school diploma with a GPA of at least 90%, or 18 years old and still attending secondary school.

What are the implications for UAE nationals employed in the private sector?

Currently the number of UAE nationals (estimated at 14,000) employed in the private sector remains low. However, with a growing momentum behind the policy of Emiratisation (particularly within insurance and banking, and in light of Expo 2020) the number of nationals within the private sector is set to grow and managing periods of leave for national service or reserve training will become a consideration for most employers.

Key considerations are that whilst a UAE national is performing military service:

  • The service period must be taken into account for all employment benefits including: seniority, promotions and raises, retirement benefits and pension;
  • the individual has the right to return following completion of the service to the same role or an equivalent role; and
  • the individual’s salary, bonus, allowances, promotions and raises will continue to be paid to him during his service term, 50% of which will be paid by the Armed Forces and 50% by the employer. For the purposes of calculating any retirement benefits or pension, the service term must be taken into account when calculating continuous employment with the employer. 

Once an individual has completed military service, he or she becomes part of the reserved forces and can be called up for further service or training. 

In preparation for the Law coming into effect in early September 2014, employers should now review who within the workforce is affected by the Law, what the duration of service will be and how the business is going to resource whilst the employee is away and ensure that the role remains open.  As the National and Reserve Service Committee begins to implement the Law in September 2014, the processes and procedures for calling up eligible UAE male nationals will become clearer. 

Elsewhere in the GCC

Bahrain: the Labour Market Regulatory Authority has introduced work and residency authorisations of 1 or 2 years duration, making it easier to resource on a short term basis (particularly on renewal of existing authorisations).

Kuwait: a Government body known as the Manpower Authority is being created to take over certain functions of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. This new body will have responsibility to:

  • Supervise the manpower in private and oil sectors; the inspectors employed by the Manpower Authority shall have judicial police powers.
  • Develop the procedures for establishing trade unions and business owner associations and indicate the necessary requirements in accordance with the provisions set forth in the Private Sector Labour Law.
  • Issue the rules and procedures for granting employment permits, assessment of labour requirements and labour transfer from one employer to another.
  • Supervise labour attachés abroad subject to the provisions of Kuwait Law No. (21) of 1962.
  • Determine and collect fees and charges for services provided by the Manpower Authority.
  • Collect the additional fees of national manpower in accordance with Kuwait Law No. (19) of 2000.
  • Register the manpower employed in private and oil sectors and prepare database for counting the foreign manpower.

The Manpower Authority is solely empowered to recruit foreign manpower in the private and oil sectors based on the employer’s application indicating the manpower required to be recruited. The Minister of Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour will, however, continue to issue resolutions on procedures, documents and prescribed fees.

Oman: the Ministry of Manpower issued Ministerial Decision 75/2014 in April 2014 ruling that starting from April 2014, construction companies cannot hire foreign workers. This Ministerial Decision has some exceptions for:

  • companies with Excellent Grade;
  • international companies;
  • consultancy companies; and
  • companies working on construction projects for the Omani government; and companies registered with the Public Authority for SME.

KSA: the Ministry of Interior is continuing to move to an electronic system whereby visas and various sponsorship applications are granted electronically. The financial levy on employers with ratios in excess of 1:1 KSA national to non national employees will not apply to employers with 4 employees or less. The Ministry of Labour is continuing to consult on a number of initiatives through its on line ‘Maan’ portal

Marcus George