Maternity regulations in the UAE
In 2016, there have been some positive changes to the UAE’s maternity regulations. Women working in the public sector will benefit from an extended maternity leave of up to 3 months.
The initiative comes as a result of the recommendations issued by the UAE Gender Balance Council (“GBC”) established by the UAE government in 2015. The GBC’s focus is said to be empowerment of women in accordance with the UAE’s goal to enter world’s top 25 countries for gender equality by 2021.
The extended maternity leave is a means to achieve this goal as it will help to bridge the gap between the number of working men and women in the UAE. Below is an overview of the current maternity position in the UAE.
The maternity leave rights afforded to women working in the UAE’s public sector are governed by the Federal Law on Human Resources in the Federal Government (“Federal HR Law”) which is applicable to civil servants of the UAE’s federal governmental and regulatory bodies; as well as by equivalent regulations issued by the individual Emirates.
The Federal HR Law was amended in September 2016 to extend the fully paid maternity leave from 60 days to three months. Moreover, the Federal HR Law grants new mothers two hours off work per day for nursing their baby during the first four months. Such amendments shall come into force at the end of February 2017.
The Law Concerning Human Resources in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (“AD HR Law”) was also amended in September 2016 to provide for three months of paid maternity leave for civil personnel based in Abu Dhabi. However, the AD HR Law extends the period within which new mothers are afforded time off work for nursing to one year from the date of the baby’s birth. Moreover, in contrast with the Federal HR Law, the AD HR Law has already come into force from its date of issuance. Reportedly, the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah has followed the same initiative with respect to public sector employees.
The emirate of Sharjah had amended its laws with respect to civil servants’ maternity leave in 2014 to equalise the paid maternity allowance for national and expatriate women to sixty days. Fortunately, this is now superseded by the more generous rights afforded under the 2016 Federal HR Law amendments.
On a federal and local level, the fully paid paternity is only three days and this has not been amended through the latest law changes. It is hoped that a longer paternity leave will be considered in the future.
Women’s maternity rights in the private sector, are subject to different legislation. Such rights are guaranteed by the Federal Law Regulating Labour Relations (“Labour Law”), which is applicable across the UAE with the exceptions of the Dubai International Financial Centre (“DIFC”) and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (“ADGM”).
The Labour Law requires companies to provide for a minimum paid maternity leave of 45 calendar days provided that the requirement of one year of continuous employment with the same employer is satisfied. If the one year threshold is not met, then a half paid leave must be offered. The leave includes time before and after delivery. A woman is further entitled to two breaks per day of 30 minutes each to nurse her new born for up to 18 months after the baby’s birth.
In contrast, under the DIFC’s Employment Law , a woman is entitled to a minimum of 65 working days of maternity leave. The same proviso for the entitlement of such leave exists, with it being afforded only where the employee has met the one year threshold. However, only the first 33 working days of this leave are fully paid with the remaining 32 days paid at fifty per cent of the wage.
To avail this leave, a woman is required to notify her employer of her pregnancy and expected leave in accordance with the DIFC Employment Law. These maternity rights also apply to a woman adopting a child of less than three months old, which is not something provided for in the UAE Labour Law.
The DIFC Employment Law also expressly guarantees the right of the woman to return to work at the end of the maternity leave to the same or a suitable alternative role and with the same seniority rights. As in the Labour Law, the DIFC Employment Law further protects women’s rights by prohibiting the employer from terminating or changing a woman’s employment contract because of her pregnancy or maternity leave.
A pregnant women working within the DIFC is also entitled to attend ante-natal appointments during working hours upon a doctor’s advice.
Whilst the ADGM Employment Regulations 2015 follows a similar scheme to the DIFC with regards to maternity leave, it goes further than it and the Federal HR Law in providing 5 working days of fully paid paternity leave for new fathers, who have the right to take such leave within two months of the date of child’s birth.
Whilst the maternity leave regimes in the private sector may seem ungenerous, in reality, many international companies already provide for at least 3 months, and some up to 6 months, of paid maternity leave to their employees. Some companies also provide an opportunity for an extended unpaid leave meaning that women can return to their workplace within an agreed time period. These employers have already learnt from market experience that retaining talent is beneficial for their business and ultimately saves costs and reduces risks involved in recruiting new employees.
Considerations for the future
As evident from the above, and in contrast to Scandinavian regimes which make up the top four countries in gender equality and which provide for an average of 7 months paid maternity leave, there remains room for improvement with regards to the maternity rights in both the public and the private sectors in the UAE. A welcome development would be when we see that private and public sector maternity rights are equalized and the rights of women adopting children are further recognised.
An extended paternity leave allowance would also contribute to fathers involvement in the child-caring responsibilities. By affording them longer leaves , a more equal view of the roles of men and women in the household and at work would be created.
A further area for improvement would be to help women return to the workforce by creating a legal framework for flexible hours, working from home, job sharing and part time work. Such measures would not only further the UAE’s 2021 Vision but also enable employers to benefit from access to untapped talent of women who would otherwise lack the opportunity to re-enter the workforce, reduce office costs and benefit from flexibility offered by part time and freelancing workers.
With the latest developments , it is encouraging to see the positive steps taken to adhere to the UAE’s 2021 Vision and improve the lives of women and their families.
Rita Jansen, Partner, Ince & Co Middle East LLP (Dubai Branch), Monika Humphreys-Davies