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Labour Law in Dubai and the UAE

Thursday 21 March 2019 (UAE)   

UAE Labour Law in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and other emirates

  • Labour regulations in the UAE are governed by the UAE Labour Law - Federal Law No. 8 of 1980.
  • Amendments include Federal Laws No. 24 of 1981, No. 15 of 1985 and No. 12 of 1986.
  • *Free zones in the UAE (some or all, check) are not covered by UAE labour law unless both employee and employer agree that it applies (Ref: Khaleej Times "Legal View: Free-zone job disputes outside federal law", 14 July 2014 - refers to JAFZA).

Nothing on this page (or website for that matter) should be taken as proper, improper, or any other sort of legal advice or interpretation of UAE law. It is only our opinion or understanding of rules, regulations, and procedures in the UAE. You should consult a lawyer and/or the UAE labour department for professional and/or official information. Or at least read the UAE Labour Law yourself, and ignore anything we say, especially if you don't think it agrees with the law.

If you have a dispute or disagreement with your employer, it is important that you file a complaint with the UAE Ministry of Labour (MOL) first before going through the court system. The MOL will attempt to resolve a dispute, and it is not necessary to employ a lawyer to represent you at a MOL hearing. Judges in the court system will often (or always) throw out labour related cases if they have not been heard by the MOL first. Ref: Dubai Eye Legal Matters 02 Aug 2015 (3m40s).

It is against the labour law in the UAE for recruitment agents and companies to charge job candidates and employees any fees for any part of the recruitment process or residence visa and work permit application. Many still try, and that should set off warning bells regarding the nature of the employer. Within the UAE, they can be reported to the UAE Ministry of Labour who may or may not do anything about it. Either way, job applicants are likely to be better off moving on to another recruitment agent and/or employer who respects the law.

Treat all information on this page as unconfirmed unless directly obtained from an official source (UAE Ministry of Labour for example) as there are media reports with conflicting information. As is common in the UAE, when there are significant changes in the law, there is usually a period of confusion while:

  • the authorities try to figure out if what they were reported to have said is what they thought they meant to say,
  • if the result is really what they wanted,
  • the media, citizens, and expat residents try to figure out what is really going on,
  • and targeted groups and organisations try to figure out how to get away with what they were doing before any shakeup, or how much wasta they need to get around any new rules.

Federal Labour Law Number 8 covers most of the essential rules and regulations you need to know with respect to salaries, termination, gratuity etc. It is (or was) available in English online at the UAE Ministry of Labour (MOL) website and in bookshops, and is worth familiarising yourself with.

You will probably hear many people complain that the employment contract is not worth the paper it's written on. Certainly there are people who've had an unpleasant job experience somewhere where things did not seem to go according to what they understood from their contract. Or worse. To minimise the risk of problems, keep in mind the following points.

  • Legally, only the Arabic version of a contract is valid in the UAE.
  • Having a written contract is at least something. A verbal contract is worth much less.
  • You should read your contract carefully before accepting a position and resolve any questions or issues before signing it. Make sure you have a written copy of any changes negotiated, or a revised contract. That's important. If an issue is unresolved before signing a contract, expect it to stay that way no matter what you are told.
  • You should be given an English version. Consider carefully the implications of what you are doing if you sign a contract in Arabic without understanding it.
  • Alarm bells should go off if a company will not send you a copy of the contract before you arrive, or they ask you to sign what appears to be a different contract when you do arrive.
  • If you do have a problem with your employer and want a legal opinion, there are many lawyers available (who charge a fee of course). See a list of possible lawyers in UAE to try.
  • It is possible that you end up in a situation where it is difficult to resolve things even if the law is apparently on your side. You can expect that the one with the most wasta (influence, power) will win, in which case, put your tail between your legs and hope the door doesn't hit you on your way out.
  • Your embassy or consulate might be able to help by providing you a list of lawyers to contact, but that's about all they'll do. They are often quite good at saying they are doing everything they can to help workers in trouble at the hands of abusive employers who ignore the law, but in reality doing everything they can amounts to mostly just talking about it. Employers keeping employee passports in the UAE is a good example of how embassies turn a blind eye to employers breaking the law and abusing their citizens and property.

Most jobs in Dubai have a probationary period of between one month and one year. During this time you can be dismissed without notice and are not entitled to any end of service benefits. It is not clear if this works both ways i.e. you can resign without notice. Some say the law says no, but people have successfully resigned from their jobs at short notice during probation.

The UAE Labour Law does not cover certain job categories (maids and other domestic workers, federal and government employees, agricultural workers) which seems to mean that people employed in those sorts of jobs have few, if any, rights. For example no gratuity payments, unless something is specified in a contract (but even then it sometimes seems as if a contract is not worth the paper it's written on). The following worker categories are exempted:

  1. Employees of the Federal Government and of governmental departments of the emirates of the Federation, employees of municipalities, other employees of federal and local public authorities and corporations, as well as employees who are recruited against federal and local governmental projects.
  2. Members of the armed forces, police and security.
  3. Domestic servants employed in private households, and the like.
  4. Farming and grazing workers, other than those working in agricultural establishments that process their own products, and those who are permanently employed to operate or repair mechanical equipment required for agricultural work.

New UAE labour law changes from January 2011

Retirement age in UAE
  • Maximum age that foreign workers can be employed in UAE increased from 60 to 65 years old.
Part time work permits for students and other expat residents
  • From January 2011, university and college students sponsored by the institute in the UAE at which they are enrolled can legally work part-time under certain conditions. Students need to apply for a part-time work permit from the UAE Ministry of Labour (MOL). Not clear if students must be studying full-time, or if the new labour law decree also applies to part-time students.
  • A report in Gulf News 08 February 2010 said Gobash recalled an incident when the son of General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, was denied the right to take up a part-time job in a company because there was no law regulationg [sic] these work permits. Implying that UAE National students also need a part-time work permit to be legally employed.
  • The part-time employment permit is also available to expat residents working full-time who have a valid labour card, and to expat wives sponsored by their husband. Not clear if expat husbands under wife sponsorship can also obtain a part-time work permit.
  • The part-time employment permit allows the holder to be employed in more than one part-time job.
Juvenile or teenage work permits
  • From January 2011, teenagers from 15-18 years of age can find jobs in the UAE after obtaining a teenage work permit from the MOL.
  • There are restrictions on the type of work and hours of employment. Ministerial decree 1189 for 2010 specifies 31 categories of work in which juveniles are not permitted to work, including underground jobs in mines, quarries, and other work related to mining; furnaces of melting metals; oil refining; bakeries; asphalt industry.
  • Some reports refer to the work permit as part-time only but it appears that full-time work is permitted.
  • Validity period of juvenile work permit is one year maximum.
Short term and temporary labour permit in UAE
  • Expat and foreign workers over the age of 18 (and less than 65 years of age) who have not previously worked in the UAE can now apply for short-term work permits valid for 60 days at a time according to UAE Ministry of Labour (MOL) information reported by the Al Khaleej newspaper 26 January 2011.
  • The 60-day work permits can be renewed up to 5 times (6 times reported but later information said maximum total period of one year), renewal must be made before expiry date of the permit or last renewed period.
  • Work permit initial fee AED 500. Work permit renewal fees and bank guarantee amount not reported.
  • Fine of AED 500 will apply for every 10 day period past the expiry date.
  • Permit will automatically be cancelled if fees and bank guarantee not paid within 60 days. Not clear if this means within the validity period, or within 60 days after expiry of the permit.
  • Short term work permits not available to UAE and GCC nationals (not that they need a work permit anyway, at least not UAE citizens).
  • A report in Emirates Business 24-7 on 05 February 2011 said "Also, priority will be given to Emiratis and GCC nationals who can take up the required job" making it sound like those nationalities need to apply for a short term permit, however it is more likely that the intention is that permits should only be issued to foreigners if the company cannot find an Emirati or GCC citizen to do the same job, since they don't need work permits for the UAE as far as we know.
  • Applications to be made at Tasheel center by employer or company representative, who must have electronic signature authority. Workers cannot apply for a temporary permit themselves.
  • In some circumstances, e.g. unpaid salaries for more than 2 months, workers can obtain a temporary work permit even if their current employer objects.
Changes to laws about part-time work in the UAE - January 2011
  • Students and housewives can work part-time in the UAE according to changes in the UAE Labour Law from January 2011.
  • Part-time work permits will be available for one year at a time (fee AED 500), but female dependents and students with UAE residence visas will not need a work permit. Unclear if expat husbands sponsored by expat wives can work part-time without a permit.
  • Expatriate male dependants (husbands and sons) of Emirati women do not need a work permit to work part-time.
New rules for NOC, employment permit, and labour ban in Dubai and UAE - January 2011

Tel 800-6655 (toll-free in UAE) MOL helpline for questions.

  • As of Saturday 01 January 2011, new rules in the UAE reduce the employment period for which an NOC is no longer required when changing sponsors from 3 years to 2 years.
  • As far as we know, this does not apply to employees on fixed term contracts who leave before the end of their contract (which, unless a contract specifically allows this or the employer agrees to an early departure, means the employee has broken the terms of their contract and might still be subject to a 1 year labour ban instead of the automatic 6 month labour ban that usually applies when leaving a job in the UAE).
  • This information to be updated as the new law becomes more clear.
NOC no longer needed in UAE?
  • A Gulf News report 20 December 2010 said a government official clarified that the new law completely scraps the "no objection certificate" (NOC) (the official might have been Humaid Bin Deemas, Acting Director-General of the Ministry of Labour? Not confirmed). Which was not actually that clear. The NOC is no longer needed only for workers who have completed 2 years of employment. An NOC is still required for employees who have completed between 1 and 2 years of an unlimited contract. For those working less than 1 year, or breaking a limited period contract, a 1 year ban is still possible.
New law for NOC and ban period in UAE

On 16 December 2010, the official UAE news agency, WAM, published news about the new UAE labour law regarding ban periods (Cabinet Resolution No 25 of 2010 regarding internal work permit at the Ministry of Labour, issued by the UAE Minister of Labour, Saqr Gobash).

  1. Transfer without NOC or ban is only possible if the employee has worked at least 2 years with the employer, and the employee and employer have terminated their relationship "cordially". The WAM report said The resolution says that the new employment permit will only be granted to the worker after the end of his work relationship with his employer without consideration of the legitimate six month period which is usually calculated after the cancellation of the worker's labour card, but stipulates two must-do conditions : firstly, the two contracting parties must have ended their work relationship cordially and secondly, the worker should have worked with his employer for two years at least- the duration of the new labour card which will be issued by early January.
  2. However, an employee can obtain a new work permit without the agreement of the sponsor at the end of the contractual period (2 years minimum?) in 2 cases: First : when the employer fails to honour his legally or contractual obligations. Second, in the condition of expiry of work relationship where the worker takes no responsibility such a complaint filed by the worker against his firm.
  3. Or, there are 3 situations in which a worker can get a new work permit even if s/he has been employed less than 2 years. First: When joining his new job, the worker should be classified in the first, second or third professional class and that his new salary should not be less than Dh 12,000, Dh 7,000 and Dh 5000 if he is in the first, second and third class respectively. Second:Non-compliance of the employer with legal, labour obligations towards the worker or in the case where the worker has no role in terminating the work relationship. Third: Shifting of the worker to another firm the employer owns it or has stakes in it.

Other points to note about the new Labour Law regulations (all unconfirmed as of December 2010)

  • Labour card fee to be reduced to AED 300 (should be payable by employer) for companies at the top level of 5 categories - those employing at least 20% skilled workers, and 15% Emirati nationals. Other companies will pay AED 600 to AED 5,000 per employee for labour cards?
  • Skilled workers divided into 3 categories:
    1. University degree holders
    2. Partial college level study completed (diplomas, certificates, etc beyond secondary education)
    3. Secondary school education completed
  • Cheaper labour card costs for companies employing minimum 20% skilled workers, of whom 15% are Emiratis, and being paid a minimum salary as in the table below (system introduced mid-December 2010) (unclear if minimum salary requirement is for Emiratis only, or all nationalities):
Level   Education Minimum Salary Labour Card Fees
1 Skilled University degree AED 12,000 AED 300
2 Skilled Post secondary AED 7,000  
3 Skilled Secondary AED 5,000  
4 Unskilled      
5 Unskilled      
  • Automatic 6 month employment ban to be lifted for skilled and professional workers.
  • Changes in the law prompted by a UAE Ministry of Labour (MOL) study - Humaid Bin Deemas Al Suwaidi, MOL Undersecretary, was reported as saying (29 December 2010) "We did a study and found that 70% of employees end their contracts before completing the three years."
  • Employer attitudes in the UAE summed up nicely by a comment reported in The National 28 December 2010 - a company administrator said about their employees "We used to have control over them, and we knew it wasn't easy from them to go, now we will lose this control." Which is probably just what the MOL hopes will happen - the loss of control that is.
  • Clarifying the question of whether or not workers on fixed contracts can leave at any time during their contract period, Humaid Bin Deemas Al Suwaidi, MOL Under-secretary, was reported on 27 December 2010 to have said on UAE radio stations that "They cannot unless the contract has ended - legally. They have to respect their contracts. They are the ones who agreed to them, or agreed on their renewal."
  • The National reported on 27 December 2010 that the MOL Undersecretary said only 0.4% of the private sector workforce are Emirati nationals - about 16,000 out of 4 million registered workers in the UAE.
New company categories in UAE - 05 December 2010 (WAM)
  • Companies in the UAE classified into 3 categories according to Resolution Number 1187 of 2010 on Regulations and Criteria of Classification of Firms in implementation of Cabinet Resolution Number 26 of 2010, issue date 11 August 2010 by UAE Minister of Labour, Saqr Gobash. New categories replace previous classification system in operation since 2005.
  • Implementation not until July 2011? Emirates Business 24-7 reported on 11 January 2011 that The UAE Ministry of Labour has clarified that new labour law amendments due to be implemented in July this year ...
  • Article 10 covers the introduction of practical and real mechanisms for voluntary Emiratisation.
Category Level Qualification Minimum Salary Minimum staff Emiratisation Cross-cultural compliance
First 1 (A) Degree AED 12,000 20% minimum 15%  
First 2 (B) Diploma AED 7,000 20% minimum 15%  
First 3 (C) Unskilled AED 5,000 20% minimum 15%  
Second 1 (A)   AED 12,000   minimum 15% minimum 75%
Second 2 (B)   AED 7,000   minimum 15% 50%-75%
Second 3 (C)   AED 5,000   minimum 15% below 50%
  1. First group of companies information in italics based on Emirates 24-7 report 11 January 2011 (Dh12,000 minimum salary for degree holders part of new company classification policy ... UAE Labour Ministry clarifies that amendment applies to only Category I firms under the new system), appears to conflict with or revise previous information giving similar requirements for Category II companies.
    • Category I companies will be exempted from paying a bank guarantee for workers.
    • Category I companies exempted from paying visa deposit fees.
    • Companies upgraded to Category I may not reduce employee salaries below the minimums specified, otherwise they are at risk of being downgraded again.
    • Minimum staffing levels given as 20% in various reports but not clear if for each classification, or total for all 3 classifications.
  2. Second group of companies is subdivided "based on their commitment to certain standards like emiratisation, wages and housing" according to comments from UAE Minister of Labour, Saqr Gobash (05 December 2010 WAM report).
    • Category II companies must pay AED 3,000 bank deposit per worker, up to a maximum of AED 1.5 million (level A), AED 3m (B), or AED 5m (C).
    • Cross-cultural compliance policy based on WAM report 05 December 2010 that said "For the second group, the resolution arranged firms to A,B and C according to cross-cultural policy. A company is sorted in group A if it does not commit itself to this policy by at least 25 per cent. A non-compliance of 25 to 50 will place the company in grade B and C if the percentage crosses the 50 mark." No, we're not sure if we understood it correctly either, and no, we don't know how it's measured anyway.
  3. Third group of companies is those with 100 or more black points for labour law related offences and convictions such as recruiting infiltrators, human trafficking, providing wrong information regarding the wages protection system (WPS), or failing to observe emiratisation policy. Companies can be fined from AED 15,000-20,000 for such offences.
    • Category III companies required to pay AED 3,000 bank deposit per worker up to a maximum of AED 10 million.
  • Exemptions from paying bank guarantees irrespective of company category apply to:
    • Industrial projects licensed by the UAE Ministry of Economy.
    • Federal or Local Government companies and organisations.
    • Non-profit organisations, cooperative associations, and national associations under the supervision of the UAE Ministry of Social Affairs.
Minimum salary in UAE - February 2011
  • As a result of UAE Labour Law changes at the start of 2011, several reports emerged with headlines or articles claiming that the minimum salary paid in the UAE had increased to AED 5,000, AED 7,000, or AED 12,000.
  • Such claims should be taken with a pinch of salt. The labour law changes specified the requirements for a company to be classified as a second category company (or 2nd level, or something similar - a variety of terms are being used), including minimum salary. This does not mean there is a blanket minimum salary requirement in the UAE.
New labour permit fees UAE - December 2010

New Ministry of Labour (MOL) fees reported in Al Khaleej newspaper 20 & 29 December 2010 (as per Article 2 of Ministerial Decree No 26 of 2010), costs and fees effective from January 2011:

  • Companies are exempted from paying the following fees for Emirati employees.
Fee category Amount (AED) Frequency Notes
MOL registration fee for new companies 2,000 once  
Digital signature processing for new companies 250 once  
Companies employing non-Emirati PROs 2,000 2 yearly  
Lost or damaged PRO card 200    
Labour card for employees under family sponsorship 2,000 2 yearly  
Labour card for category 1 workers 300 2 yearly  
Labour card for category 2 level A workers 600 2 yearly  
Labour card for category 2 level B workers 1,500 2 yearly  
Labour card for category 2 level C workers 2,000 2 yearly  
Labour card for category 2 workers 5,000 2 yearly  
Labour card for employees over 65 years old 5,000 2 yearly  
Temporary work permits for minors (15-18 yrs old) initial fee 100    
Temporary work permit up to one year for minors 500 annual  
Transfer fee to new company 300 once  
Labourer importing fee per company (initial) 10,000    
Labourer importing fee per company renewal 5,000 annual  
Fine for delayed labour card application (after 60 days) 1,000 monthly  
Maximum retirement age in UAE - change reported 30 December 2010
  • An unnamed UAE Ministry of Labour official said "The retirement age before was 60, now it's 65. They raised the retirement age," according to an Arabian Business report 30 December 2010.
  • He also said "After 65 you're considered post-retirement, and it's a different rate. You're also on a one-year visa instead of a two-year."
  • The report seemed to imply that the change only applied to skilled workers but that was not clearly stated.

Other UAE Labor Law information

Updates to the Labor Law in Dubai and the UAE
  • Indian housemaids less than 30 years old must have at least a high school education. Housemaids over 30 are exempt. Indian government restriction, not a UAE restriction (Khaleej Times 17 September 2007).
  • Companies must open bank accounts for their workers WEF January 2008, or the Ministry of Labour will not issue work permits. (Khaleej Times 17 September 2007).
Salary cuts for workers in the UAE
  • Some companies in the UAE attempt to reduce employee salaries for various reasons, particularly during the economic downturn that started in 2008-2009.
  • The Khaleej Times 27 July 2010 reported that Saleh Al Jabri, Director of the Establishments Department at the Ministry, said "It is illegal for a company to cut workers' pay as the employment contract is a binding agreement attested by the Ministry and all parties must comply with its clauses. ... The violating company will be prosecuted as manipulating workers' salary is considered a crime."
  • Mr Al Jabri also reportedly advised workers threatened with pay cuts to report their employer to the UAE Ministry of Labour so that the case could be investigated.
Employers keeping expat workers' passports in UAE
  • See more information about sponsor passport retention in UAE.
  • Employers keeping the passports of their expat employees is illegal. Not because the UAE Labour Law specifically says it is, but because employers don't have any legal right to keep the passport of an employee (or any other property belonging to their workers) in the first place.
  • A passport is usually the property of the government that issued it, and the holder is responsible for its safekeeping. That means the person who was issued the passport has the right to decide who gets to see their passport and who doesn't.
  • Obviously, various authorities around the world are entitled to view or retain someone's passport for a period of time, for example border control, police, immigration departments etc. But that list does not include your employer, whether in the UAE or anywhere els.
Common UAE Labour Law questions
Precedence of contract over UAE Labour Law
  • Usually most legal systems declare as invalid any contractual agreements that take away rights provided by law - whether to do with labour or other areas of society (warranty agreements for services and products for example).
  • This, as far as we know, applies in the UAE also. However, a number of people who sound more professional than us have often said (in newspaper articles, online forums, etc) that your labour contract takes precedence over the law, irrespective of what it says. This doesn't make sense to us but we're not lawyers or the UAE authorities.
  • We would therefore strongly suggest you read your contract carefully before signing, read the UAE Labour Law carefully before signing, especially if there are contractual areas you are not happy about, and then try to renegotiate the contract terms and/or seek professional advice to clear up any disagreements before signing the contract.
  • Note that some articles in the UAE Labour Law which specify rights due to the employer, do contain an escape clause for the employer with words to the effect of ... unless the contract specifies otherwise. In which case, it would make sense to assume that your contract does override whatever rights you have as stated in the labour law.
Financial compensation for arbitrary dismissal or breaking contract in the UAE
  • An employer is expected to pay up to 3 months salary to an employee on a fixed term contract if s/he is fired without good reason, unless the contract says otherwise (Article 115).
  • Employees on indefinite contracts are due compensation equivalent to the salary payable for the notice period (Article 119).
  • An employee who does not complete a contract owes the employer 1.5 months salary or less, but not more unless the contract says otherwise (Article 115).
  • An employee on an unlimited contract who quits without notice owes the employer the salary payable for the notice period (Article 119).
Gratuity and severence pay in the UAE
Links to UAE Labour Law documents and PDF downloads

www.mol.gov.ae/newcontrolpanel2010/Attachments/21062012/labour%20law%20no.8%20year%201980.pdf - if it's on the MOL website you should be able to rely on it being an official version. If link not available, try Home >> Labour Law >> Legal Affairs >> click the small text link which says "PDF".

  • www.angelfire.com/nv/sabu/UAE%20Labour%20Law.html - not the actual text of the UAE Labor Law but a useful summary.
  • www.gulftalent.com/repository/ext/UAE_Labour_Law.pdf - might require name and email address for access.
  • www.scribd.com/doc/2910325/UAELabourLaw
  • www.zu.ac.ae/library/html/UAEInfo/documents/UAELabourLaw.pdf - copy of the Al Tamimi & Co version of the UAE Labor Law. Be careful, it's their wording, not the official document. The Al Tamimi version is more readable but does contain some inconsistencies.
Last update Monday 10-Aug-2015. Page development 3D 4L 5C.
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