Labor Laws Concerning Migrants in the UAE
The following document is in reference to UAE’s Labor Law that governs workers in the private sectors. If you work in a private company, you are entitled to receive the rights guaranteed by the Labor Law. Get useful information on the UAE Labor Law, Dubai Migration Law and UAE Workers Law among other helpful details.
There are exceptions. If you are a domestic worker (working in a private house as a maid or gardener), a farm worker, an agricultural worker, a casual worker, an employee working in a Free Zone, or an employee of a government department or a member of the armed forces, police or security force, you do not fall under the protection of the Labor Law. This means in terms of work, you are only protected by what is mentioned in the contract with the employer, which is enforceable through a civil court.
Section I: Labor Laws for Private Sector Workers
1. Does the UAE Labor Law apply to companies and employees working in Free Zones?
Employees working in free zones across the UAE are generally not governed by the UAE Labor Law. Each free zone authority has its own employment law and employees are subject to the rules and regulations of their respective free zone authority.
Employees are under a contract with the respective free zone authority. The provisions set out in the employment contract must be in accordance with the Labor Law.
2. What documents do I need for obtaining a work permit in the UAE?
In the UAE, there is only one type of work permit. This permit is often referred to as a labor card. However, employees will need to obtain an entry visa, a residence visa, and an Emirates ID card before they can apply for a work permit.
3. What is the entire process of obtaining a work permit in the UAE?
The process of obtaining a UAE work permit happens in three stages: getting an employment entry visa, getting an Emirates ID card (also known as a Resident Identity Card), and obtaining a residence visa and work permit.
4. How do I get an employment entry visa?
An employment entry visa in the UAE is also referred to as a pink visa. To begin the process of obtaining this permit, the employer must apply for visa quota approval on behalf of the employee. This approval will be obtained through the Ministry of Labor (MOL).
Next, the employer will submit an employment contract to the MOL. The prospective employee must sign this contract.
The Ministry must approve the work permit application before issuing an employment entry visa. With the approval and visa secured, the employee will have two months to enter the UAE.
Upon entering the UAE with a pink visa, the employee has a period of 60 days to obtain a residence visa and formal work permit.
Free zone employees are sponsored by the respective free zone authority and not by their employer.
5. How do I apply for an Emirates ID?
An Emirates ID is required for the medical screening. Employees will need to apply for a residence visa. To apply for an ID, the employee must provide their entry visa along with an original passport and a copy. Employees will need to apply in person at the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) center, where they will provide biometrics including fingerprints and a photograph.
6. What Are the Requirements to Obtain a UAE Work Permit and Residence Visa?
To apply for a residence visa, the employee will need all of the required documents listed below. A residence visa in the UAE is valid for one to three years and can be renewed. The employee’s work permit will be listed as part of the residency visa.
Once the work permit is approved, the employee can officially begin working.
To obtain a residence visa in the UAE, employees will need the following documents:
- A valid passport and a photocopy
- Passport sized photos
- An Emirates ID card
- An entry permit from the Ministry of Labor
- The results of a medical screening
- A copy of a company card from the employer
- A copy of the company’s commercial license
The employee may apply for a work permit after obtaining a residence visa. To get a work permit, the employee will need all of the documents listed above as well as a work permit application form, which must be completed in Arabic, and an employment contract or job offer from a company in the UAE. All costs pertaining to the residence via and work permit must be borne by the employer, and not the employee.
7. Are there any gender-specific laws in the UAE?
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. Female workers are also entitled to a fully-paid maternity leave for 45 days.
8. What are the various kinds of employment contracts in the UAE?
There are two types of Employment contracts for private sector workers in the UAE – limited-term contracts (fixed term) and unlimited term contracts.
9. What should an employment contract contain?
The employment contract must be in accordance with the Approved Standard Employment Contract and must be drafted in Arabic.
During the COVID-19 period, companies which are impacted by the government’s precautionary measures to limit spread of COVID-19, can reduce the wages of a migrant worker they employ but this can only be done if both parties agree and sign a “temporary additional appendix” to the labor contract. Both the employer and the worker must keep a copy of this appendix to the contract.
10. Is there a minimum wage requirement, or is my employer required to cover certain expenses?
There is no mandated minimum wage according to UAE law, however the law broadly mentions that salaries must cover basic needs of the employees.
11. How should wages be paid?
Employers must pay workers via the Wage Protection System at least once a month, or on the dates specified in the work contract if the frequency of payment is more than monthly.
During the period of COVID-19, certain changes can be made to migrant workers’ wages as noted under ‘Contracts’ above.
12. Am I entitled to overtime wages?
Overtime provisions are at a rate of 125 percent of the wage. Overtime provisions increase up to 150 percent of the wage for work between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. Overtime cannot exceed two hours per day, unless extreme circumstances justify it.
13. Can my employer reduce my wages?
An employer can permanently reduce the wages of a migrant worker but is required to apply through the “Employment Contract data modification” service to obtain the approval of the MOHRE.
14. Can my employer keep me for long hours at the work site? What is the minimum and maximum work hour duration?
The maximum an employer can ask the employee to work for is eight hours per day, and 48 hours per week. Exceptions are made for the month of Ramadan, when working hours will be reduced by two hours. Working hours may be increased to nine hours per day for persons employed in trade, hotels, cafeterias and security. Working hours in other jobs may be extended by virtue of a decision of the MOHRE.
Employees are entitled to a daily break for rest, meals and prayer after five consecutive hours of work per day
15. What are the national holidays in the UAE?
All workers are entitled to one rest day per week, on Friday. Workers who work on Friday are entitled to request a rest day in lieu that can be taken at a later date or be paid at a rate of 150 percent of their basic wage.
The worker shall be entitled to an official leave with full payment in the following occasions :
- New Year’s Day (Hijri) – One day
- New Year’s Day (Gregorian) – One day
- Eid al Fitr – Two days
- Eid al Adha and Arafat Day – Three days
- Prophet Mohammed Birthday Anniversary – One day
- Isra and Mi’raj – One day (In the year 2021, this will not be a public holiday)
- Commemoration Day – one day
- National Day – two days
16. Can I obtain a leave of absence?
Workers are entitled to 30 days per year upon completion of one year of employment. If the period of service is less than a year but more than six months, the worker is entitled to two days’ leave for each month until completing 12 months of service. The Labor Law does not provide for annual leave during the first six months of employment.
17. Am I allowed to join a trade union?
Trade unions are not permitted in the UAE; however, there is no prohibition on committees at company level, which can include worker representatives.
18. Is there a procedure for filing complaints against my current employer?
Workers can file a complaint before the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiritsation MOHRE for an amicable dispute resolution. If a settlement is not reached within two weeks of submission of the complaint, the MOHRE can refer the dispute to the competent court.
In Abu Dhabi, the worker and the employer are given 48 hours to resolve the matter between themselves. In the event that the matter cannot be resolved by the parties, the Disputes Committee of the MOHRE will set a hearing for both parties to attend. If settlement cannot be agreed, the matter will be referred to the Labor Court.
Disputes that cannot be resolved by the MOHRE can be brought before the Labor Court. The court must, within three days from the date of receipt of the file, fix a hearing date. Labor claims that do not exceed AED 500,000 may be referred to the Summary Chambers within the Partial Circuit Division where the case may be expedited.
19. Can I change my job once I am in the UAE?
Workers may change their jobs with the permission of their employers anytime, except for some lower-skilled migrant workers, who will need to have performed at least six months of service to avoid a labor ban. No minimum service requirements apply for skilled migrant worker employees.
If a worker wishes to change jobs without the permission of their employer, they must be working on an unlimited-term contract or renewed fixed-term contracts, and they may terminate their contract with notice.
Workers on an initial fixed-term contract (ie. their first contract with the employer, which has not been renewed) do not have a statutory right to terminate early, and so risk incurring a labor ban of 12 months if they terminate without permission of the employer (this does not apply if they renewed the contract once already).
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation of the United Arab Emirates has enabled migrants to transfer more easily to another employer through the establishment of a virtual labor market.
20. Should I be charged a recruiting fee by my employer or recruiting agent?
No, It is illegal to charge recruitment fees to workers. A licensed “labor mediator or supplier” may not request or accept from any worker, whether prior or subsequent to their admission to employment, any fees, or to charge the worker for any expenses unless it is provided for or approved by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE). This is in accordance with Federal Law No. 8/1980, Article 18.
21. Is my employer entitled to confiscate my passport or any other personal document?
No. It is illegal for an employer to confiscate a passport in accordance with Circular No. 267 of 2002 issued by the Ministry of Interior (MoI) – unless it is carried out by the judicial authorities after following relevant provisions of the law.
Section II: COVID-19 Related Developments in the UAE
- The UAE Virtual Labor Market was designed to support non-UAE workforce inside the UAE, and who are impacted by the precautionary measures taken in the UAE to confront the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) by searching and applying for available job opportunities advertised by employers.
- The UAE extended work and residence permits/visas that expire during lockdowns. This is expected to continue in the case of future lockdowns.