The UAE does have a set of labour laws to protect its residents, both citizens and expats. However, in the case of expats, these laws are mostly writings on a paper.
The main problem lies within the fact that as a UAE expat, you have to go through the sponsorship system, which makes your employer not only an employer but also your sponsor, the enabler of your life here. This would be fine if you were able to easily change jobs or sponsors, but you aren’t, due to government limitations.
The UAE has indeed made some modifications to its labour law to ease up the limitations, but still, at its current state, the employer still has great power and influence, which makes you vulnerable to abuse.
Many expats willingly and voluntarily forfeit all their rights, just to keep the job. They’ll work long hours with no days off just to impress the employer, for whatever reason. This affects the rest of the expats who are not willing to live as slaves. Knowing there are people out there willing to be abused, it gives employers the confidence to kick out those who refuse it.
At the moment, the law is there, but most employers don’t follow them, because they’re not being proactively enforced. If you have an issue with your employer, it’s not going to fix itself. You’ll need to start a process that puts all the burden on you.
Here are some of your rights as an employee as per the UAE labour law:
- Get 30 days off annual leave every year.
- Be paid regularly
- Get maternity leave
- Keep your passport with you
- Not pay your visa expenses (the company must cover it)
- Work 8/9 hours daily, and 2 hours less in Ramadan
- Resign at your own will, without anyone’s approval
- Get paid your full gratuity upon leaving your work
- Get off days on public holidays
In cases where you are not getting these rights, or your job doesn’t allow it. Then you have the right to be compensated for it. For example, if you are working 12 hours daily, you should be compensated for daily extra hours either by payment or days off. Unfortunately, many are not getting their full rights.
What can you do about it?
Here’s the reality: while you are working at a job that you want to keep, there’s nothing much you can do. Any complaint will have you labelled as an “ungrateful” or “lazy” employee that needs to be removed. However, here’s what you can do:
#1 Ask for your rights
Sometimes, all you need to do is simply ask.
“Sir, last week I worked 6 hours over time. How will I be compensated for that?”
A simple polite request for your rights may just grant you what you want.
#2 Keep it official
However, if the answer to that question is a rejection or a “you should be grateful you have a job”, or a “we don’t do overtime here laugh“, then you’re going to have to move on and deal with this later. That’s why you’re going to make sure all your communications are official, such as email.
#3 Record and document
Record every single instance of your rights that you haven’t been granted. For example, If you’re being made to work extra unpaid hours daily, keep a list of all the extra hours. Keep it all documented in a clear and organized way.
#4 Collect proof
It’s going to be hard to ask for your rights without proof. Make sure that you’re collecting evidence that you have worked those extra hours (such as fingerprint records). If your leave was rejected, keep that email communication as a proof.
#5 Wait for the right time
Keep all of the above until it’s the right time to strike. You may want to wait until you’ve got a good collection of violations. Maybe you’d like to wait until you’re about to leave your job. It could also be when you’re “fired”. Chances are if your employer abused all your other rights, then you might be also facing a swindle attempt on your gratuity pay.
#6 Strike hard
Sometimes an official complaint is not enough, especially if your employer is a strong or tricky one. You, as an individual, may not be well equipped to handle laws, paperwork and legal stuff. That’s why, if you’re going to strike, strike hard. Lawyer up.
Yes, get a lawyer, there’s nothing better than a professional who is fully equipped with the law, has connections, to get you your full gratuity, overtime hours, days off and leaves compensated and to put an end to your abuse and send a clear signal to your employer that you are protected by the full extent of the law. There are specialized labour consultants in the UAE, such as JBA: Labour Lawyer in Dubai, who handle these kinds of cases on a daily basis and are able to educate you on the best course of action for your problem, and represent you legally if necessary.