Migrant workers make up almost 90% of the UAE’s workforce and are governed by the labour governance system known as the kafala (sponsorship) system.
In 2021, the UAE introduced extensive legal reforms in a drive to strengthen migrant worker rights.
Federal Decree Law No. 33 of 2021 on the Regulation of Labour Relations in the Private Sector, known as the ‘UAE Labour law’, tackles issues related to harassment, bullying, physical violence and psychological abuse against employees.
The law prohibits forced labour and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, colour, sex, religion, national or social origin or disability. It also spells out employers’ obligations towards employees and bans the employment of children below the age of 15.
Key responsibilities of private sector employers include, but are not limited to below.
- UAE law requires the employer to pay the full cost of recruitment and employment. This includes any fees paid to a private recruitment agency, cost of the entry visa and travel to the UAE.
- If the worker changes to a new employer during the probation period, the employer may be able to claim (part of) the recruitment costs from the new employer.
- The employer (or recruiter) should clearly outline the full terms and conditions of employment in the written job offer, provided to the worker before travel to the UAE.
- The job offer should detail job title and responsibilities, salary and allowances, and the detailed conditions of work.
Arriving in the UAE
- The employer must present the worker with an employment contract for signing, which must contain the exact same terms and conditions as the original job offer.
- The employment contract must be in accordance with the relevant Approved Standard Employment Contract based on whether the contract is full-time, part-time, temporary, flexible, remote, or job-sharing.
- The employer must enable the worker to start employment upon arrival. If the work contract is not presented within one week of arrival or if work is not enabled immediately following, workers are advised to report to the nearest Labour Office who will support the worker in finding alternative employment.
- The employer is responsible for processing the residency permit, at no cost to the employee.
- The employer will need the employee’s personal identification documents to obtain the residency permit. Once it is issued, the employer must return all personal identification documents to the employee.
- The employer is also responsible for any other processing requirement costs such as medical tests.
- Confiscation of workers’ passports is illegal, and workers do not require their employer’s permission to leave the country.
- Employers in the construction sector with more than 50 workers where the monthly wage is 1,500 dirhams or less must provide accommodation, which must comply with certain requirements.
- MOHRE employers with more than 50 employees must provide free accommodation to low-income employees earning less than 2,000 dirhams per month.
- Working hours are 8 hours per day, and 48 hours per week.
- Working hours are to be reduced by 2 hours during the month of Ramadan.
- Employees are entitled to a daily break for rest, meals and prayer after 5 consecutive hours of work per day.
- In some cases, the period spent by the worker commuting between their place of residence and the workplace shall be counted within the working hours.
- Workers are entitled to one rest day per week. Workers who work on their rest day are entitled to request a rest day in lieu or be paid at a rate of 150% of their basic wage.
- Employees who work overtime during the hours of 4a.m. and 10p.m. are entitled to 125% of their basic wage. For overtime worked during the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. are entitled to 150% of their basic wage.
- Overtime must not exceed 2 hours per day. Total working hours should not exceed 144 hours in 3 weeks.
- Working outdoors is banned for construction and industrial workers between 12.30p.m. and 3p.m. during summer from 15 June to 15 September, a time of the day when temperatures have crossed 50 degrees Celsius.
- All industrial establishments, and construction companies with more than 100 workers, must appoint a qualified OSH officer.
Payment of wages
- There is no minimum wage currently specified by law. However, a minimum wage is to be introduced by Cabinet decision.
- Female workers are entitled to a wage equal to that of a male worker provided they are performing the same work or other work of equal value.
- Employers must pay workers via the Wage Protection System (WPS) at least once a month, or on the dates specified in the work contract if the frequency is greater than monthly. The only employers exempt from the WPS are fishing boats and public taxis (owned by nationals), banks and houses of worship.
- Workers are entitled to 30 days per year upon completion of one year of employment.
- Workers are entitled to 90 days of sick leave per year: the first 15 days at full pay; the next 30 days at half pay; and the remaining 45 days at no pay.
- An employee who has completed 6 months of pregnancy is entitled to 45 calendar days of maternity leave at full pay, followed by 15 days of at half pay. Following maternity leave, the work is eligible for up to 45 additional days of unpaid leave for medical reasons, and an additional 60 days of leave (30 with full pay and 30 unpaid) if the child is affected by a disability or medical condition that requires full-time care.
- A female employee may not be terminated because of her pregnancy.
- In the event of occupational injury or disease, the employer must pay the cost of medical treatment until the worker recovers. Should the injury prevent the worker from performing their work, the employer shall pay the employee an allowance equal to their full wage for the entire period of treatment, or for 6 months, whichever is shorter.
- If the recovery period is greater than 6 months, the employer shall pay an allowance equal to half pay for the following 6 months, or until the worker recovers, is declared disabled or dies.
- Should the worker’s injury result in death, the worker’s next of kin will be entitled to compensation equivalent to 24 months of the worker’s basic salary (subject to a minimum of 18,000 dirhams and a maximum of 200,000 dirhams).
End of service
The termination of the contract can either initiated by the employee or the employer, and should follow the steps contained in the termination clause in the contract.
A full-time migrant worker who has completed a year or more in continuous service is entitled to 21 days pay for each year of service up to 5 years and 30 days pay for each additional year.
Above is not exhaustive of the full responsibilities as an employer. You can find out more about your legal requirements on MOHRE’s website.
However, responsible employers know that going beyond the minimum is good for employees,
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