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Permanent committee for human rights logo



Introduction to workers’ rights

The principles of the UAE Constitution, and the societal values in the country establish, protect and safeguard workers' rights, and as a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Arab Labour Organisation, and other multilateral organisations focused on the rights of employment, the UAE has an unwavering commitment to act transparently and objectively to fulfil its obligations towards all workers, especially temporary migrant workers.

The UAE is constantly evaluating all aspects of work in the country, including the recruitment and hiring processes, and appropriate accommodation for expatriate workers. The country has made significant efforts to ensure workers continue to be treated  with respect and equality, and are able to report labour disputes and incidents of abuse in an accessible and confidential manner.

During the world government summit held in February 2023, Gilbert F. Houngbo, the Director General of the ILO  welcomed the efforts made by the UAE to reform social protection and services, and hailed the country’s plans to embrace the technology needed to make these reforms come true.

“We do believe that the country is making efforts, and when efforts are made we need to encourage and recognize. I’m pleased to see such efforts going on and also pleased to see the ambition the UAE has in continuing to reform the labour market”, ILO Director General said.

The UAE strictly prohibits charging workers or potential employees any recruitment fees. Robust measures are in place to protect workers from dishonest recruitment agencies, and prohibit the confiscation of workers' passports.

Effective 1 January 2023, UAE has implemented the mandatory unemployment insurance scheme. Eligible employees will be offered protection up to a maximum of three months’ cash compensation. The scheme aims to attract and retain talents and provide social protection.

Expatriate workers in the UAE have a global economic impact in their country of origin due to the remittances system, which makes the UAE the second largest exporter of remittances after the United States. Thus, in 2021, the total remittances of UAE residents was AED 174.6 billion (more than $47.5 billion US Dollars).

Remittances from the UAE constitute an economic artery for millions of families worldwide, empowering societies beyond  their borders and supporting human development as well as contributing to several countries  achievement of their sustainable development goals.

Legislation to support the rights of employees over the next 50 years

In February 2022, the UAE began implementing Federal Law No. 33 of 2021, which regulates all work relations, and applies to all establishments, employers, and employees in the private sector. The law is part of the country’s ongoing development of measures that facilitate the ease of doing business, increase competitiveness and productivity in the labour market, and raise its ability to attract local and international talents. 

The decree was the most significant change in work regulations in the country’s 50+ year history. It was introduced in preparation for the next 50 years, in which laws and legislation will support and accommodate for the nation’s future requirements and changes in the workplace simultaneously. 

The new law aims to ensure the ability of the labour market to attract the best-equipped talents in the global workforce, while maintaining a stimulating and attractive work environment for employers. 

This law constitutes a major leap in the UAE workforce’s development and sustainability. It ensures visibility around benefits and rights, and that work relations have clear guidelines.

Federal Decree-Law No. 33 of 2021 aimed to ensure the balanced protection of rights of all parties, promote the growth and stability of the labour market, and boost the UAE’s economic competitiveness through significant amendments made up of 74 articles, consisting of: 

  • Prohibiting all kinds of discrimination based on colour, religion, race, gender or nationality in all its forms, including but not limited to cases where the victim’s opportunities are being undermined.  
  • Introducing new types of work contracts, such as part-time, temporary and flexible work, to allow employers to meet their needs with the lowest operational costs. Employers were also given the benefit of easily hiring employees that are still in the country, but have expired work contracts.  
  • Bridging the wage gap between men and women when they are performing the same job, and legalising the employment of juveniles with parental consent. 
  • Introducing new types of leaves, such as mourning, parental and study leave. Maternity leave was also extended by giving pregnant women 45 days with full pay, then 15 days with half pay, after which leave without pay can be granted in some cases.  
  • Prohibiting all types of violence, threats, physical or verbal assault, bullying and sexual harassment by any employers, managers or co-workers.  
  • Prohibiting employers from using any means to force workers to do work against their will, or threaten them with any penalty should they refuse to do it.  
  • Granting workers a weekly paid day of rest, with the possibility of increasing the weekly rest days at the discretion of the facility, in addition to mourning leave days ranging between three and five days, depending on the degree of the deceased’s relation to the employee.  
  •  Entitling a national or foreign worker to the End of Service Gratuity (EOS) upon the conclusion of his/her services under the legislation governing pensions and social insurance in the State. Regulations define the mechanism for calculating the EOS for foreign employees with types of work other than full-time jobs.  
  • Law No. 33 of 2021 applies to all citizens and residents working in the UAE’s private sector. A dedicated law to domestic service workers, No. 9 of 2022, guarantees their rights and frames their duties in a manner that preserves the rights of the parties involved in the contractual relationship.                                                                                           
  •  The UAE government also announced in December 2021 new working hours for the public sector, in which employees work four-and-a-half days a week, from Monday to Thursday, plus half a working day on Friday, with the weekend being Saturday and Sunday, in a unique step that aims to promote work-life balance. 

More than 4.9 million private sector workers will benefit from law amendments

A report issued by the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation in August 2022 showed that the number of workers in the private sector’s establishments registered with the ministry reached nearly 5.4 million employees in the second quarter of 2022  representing a 9% YoY (year-over-year) increase. 

The construction sector topped the list for the highest number of employees, with 26% of the private sector’s total workforce, followed by the trade and repair services sector with 21%, and the business services sector with 19%. 

Compared to the second quarter of 2021, the highest growth in the number of new work permits (70%) was in the agriculture sector, according to the report. This was followed by the social and personal services sector with 62% growth, the business sector with 44% growth, and the financial intermediation sector with 43% growth.

Initiatives to ensure the implementation of the labour law in the private sector

The labour complaint service was developed through an integrated smart system that does not require the plaintiff to physically visit any Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation service centres. 

Plaintiffs can register their complaints via multiple service tracks, which include a dedicated website and a mobile application, and contact the Labour Claims and Advisory Centre, which is entitled to provide legal support to the plaintiff in case he/she wishes to obtain legal advice before or after the labour complaint is filed.  

The UAE has three types of litigation courts to allow people to challenge judgements and produce more evidence in accordance with the law, granting citizens, residents and visitors the right to a fair trial. After that , the data and information related to the complaint are collected, and the application is transferred to the Ministry’s Intelligent Legal Researcher system for appraisal. Then, a decision to reach an amicable settlement is made. 

Failing that, the case is referred to the relevant courts. The courts will receive the worker’s integrated electronic file accompanied by a claim sheet that enables him/her to easily register the case with the courts.

Protection for the wages of more than 5 million workers in the country 

To fully protect the wages of more than 5 million UAE workers, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation launched the second phase of the wage protection system, the first of its kind, to ensure that overtime hours and vacation days are calculated during the year. 

To effectively follow up on the implementation of wage protection laws, the ministry has allocated a channel to receive complaints and follow up on issues related to salaries through a smart system named My Salary Complaint, where the Ministry interacts with these complaints and works to resolve them. 

The measures implemented by the Ministry reflected positively on the sector – something that was evident in the increase of the number of workers receiving their salaries through the wage protection system.

Digitisation of services provides flexibility for employers and employees

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation has digitised most of its services, which are accredited by the Prime Minister’s Office. The services are now accessible through mobile applications, websites and service centres, offering customers flexibility and choice.

For the mobile application, a dashboard has been created for employers and employees, in which each user can view information about the employer, such as facilities, domestic helpers, statistics and reports, the employees’ data, and the wages protection service data. The employee or employer can sign and finalise transactions through the application without visiting the service centres. The employer can also display wage protection data for all the months available to the employee or the facility, with all the details of the amount of money paid or deducted.

Commitment to occupational health and safety

The health and safety of customers and employees are safeguarded by a comprehensive strategy and clear guidelines informed by the best international standards. New and up-to-date technologies related to the work environment are continuously used while necessary employee training is provided.

The UAE is committed to occupational health and safety, and it has ratified several major ILO agreements related to workers’ rights, adopting many laws to protect them, including in the areas of employment, wages, housing, and occupational health and safety.

Employers in the UAE are obligated to provide health insurance for all their employees, ensure safe working conditions, and provide the necessary equipment to prevent any physical injury or harm to employees.

Admission policy development 

Over the past few years, the UAE has conducted major development work to its visa system to provide further flexibility to job seekers, employees and workers residing in the country. The improvements enhance the workers’ contribution to the economy and community, and do not differentiate between applications based on the nature of the profession. However, individuals applying must meet the required minimum monthly salary to be considered.

The UAE grants 180 days of residency to foreign workers who leave or lose their jobs before their visa expires. The extension allows employees and workers to choose not to remain in jobs in which they are dissatisfied, and encourages them to seek better-suited opportunities.

It has also been made possible, for the first time in the region, to obtain an entry visa with the aim of exploring job opportunities without requiring a host in the country. This visa is an option for skilled workers, and graduates from any of the top 500 universities in the world.

The UAE grants a Golden Visa for long-term residents to certain categories of foreigners already residing or wishing to reside in the country. The visa enables them to live, work, invest and study without the need for a host or a sponsor. Individuals from the following categories can apply for the Golden Visa: investors, entrepreneurs, outstanding talents, scientists and specialists, high-achieving students and graduates, and humanitarian pioneers.

Domestic and service workers

Given the importance of protecting the rights of domestic workers, UAE Federal Law No. 9 of 2022  has stipulated provisions for recruitment agencies and employers, clearly outlining their obligations to prevent exploitation, specifically financial exploitation, abuse, harassment and forced labour and ensure that the rights of domestic workers are protected. For example, the law states that workers should be made aware of the contract terms, the nature of the job, the workplace, the wage, and daily and weekly time off. The law requires that this information be communicated  to the worker before they are recruited and before leaving their home country. 

In addition to the general protection enjoyed by everyone in the UAE, the law provides an additional set of rights for domestic workers, the first of which is the right to at least 12 hours of daily rest, the right to be paid the costs of their medical treatment, and the right to receive the value of a return ticket to their home country once every two years. The law also stipulates that the employer provides domestic helpers with appropriate accommodation and proper meals, and prohibits the employer from retaining workers’ identification documents, such as passports, identity cards etc. 

The UAE is also a signatory to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and is working to implement all 23 objectives of the GCM. The UAE’s Voluntary National Report to the first International Migration Review Forum, detailing the significant progress made to date, can be found here . In meeting the objectives of the GCM, the UAE places particular emphasis on the following: 

  • Implementing labour recruitment procedures that are in line with international standards, including reducing the costs which workers pay for their arrival in the country and ensuring that they do not pay any recruitment fees. 
  • Informing all workers about their rights and duties before leaving their countries and upon arrival through the provision of comprehensive orientation and awareness programmes. 
  • Ensuring safe and dignified working conditions for all workers, especially domestic workers. 
  • Increasing the potential funding for people affected by natural disasters to protect them from involuntary migration.