ELA is a global network of specialist employment and immigration lawyers from over 120 countries (including 50 U.S. states). Membership of ELA is by invitation only and only after member lawyers have passed a rigorous vetting process.

Nationalisation of the workforce

Many MEA employers are facing increasing challenges resourcing their local operations with expatriate employees. Nationalisation quotas are being enforced more rigorously in a number of Middle East jurisdictions whilst African governments are increasingly recognising the political capital to be gained by facilitating the employment of locals, primarily by making it more difficult for companies to obtain immigration approvals for foreign national workers.

To reduce the risk of disruption to their operations, it is crucial that MEA employers obtain up-to-date advice from advisers who have specialist immigration knowledge of the relevant jurisdiction.

Atypical working arrangements

MEA employers are increasingly having to respond to the demands of their workforce by implementing atypical working arrangements, such as part-time working, flexible working or remote working.

However, in many African and Middle Eastern jurisdictions the applicable labour laws have not kept up with the pace of change - it is therefore important that MEA employers are mindful of the need to implement working arrangements which comply with the local legal framework in which they operate. Implementing a particular working arrangements may benefit an employer's workforce, but it could also result in serious breaches of local immigration and labour laws.

Bullying, harassment and discrimination

Recent movements for social change, such as #MeToo, have focussed global attention on inappropriate behaviour in the workplace - Africa and the Middle East are no different. MEA employers are now expected to provide a workplace which is free of bullying, harassment and discrimination. At its most basic level, this will mean implementing policies and procedures which (i) make clear that bullying, harassment and discrimination on any grounds will not be tolerated; and (ii) encourage the reporting of inappropriate conduct in the workplace.

It is, however, important that MEA employers ensure that their policies and procedures reflect the legal and cultural framework of the particular jurisdictions in which they operate. For example, in some Middle East jurisdictions defamation is a criminal offence and so employees need to be made aware of the potential consequences of making a disclosure about another individual.

Labour brokers

It is apparent that many MEA companies increasingly rely on labour brokers (also known as manpower supply companies) to resource their operations. Whilst these arrangements can be perfectly legal if implemented correctly, they can also give rise to uncertainty in terms of identifying the individual's employing entity, resulting in expensive disputes between the labour broker, the end-user and the worker.

It is therefore important that there are clear written terms in place between the company and the labour broker which apportion liability for the individual's entitlements under the applicable labour law.

Mobility and international assignments

It is common for employees of MEA companies to move between different jurisdictions (whether in MEA or elsewhere) under dual employment arrangements (i.e. the employee continues to be employed in their host country whilst on "secondment" to a different jurisdiction).

However, many employers still fail to appreciate the legal implications of seconding an employee into a new jurisdiction or, alternatively, seek to "opt-out" (normally by agreement with the employee) of their obligations under the local laws of the new jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions it is not possible to validly contract out of local labour laws and so it is important that employers obtain local legal advice to assess and, in some cases mitigate, the risk of an employee double-recovering contractual and statutory entitlements in multiple jurisdictions.