Understanding maternity rights in the UAE
Awareness about longer, more flexible maternity leave is already spreading across Dubai
Women's maternity rights in the UAE are protected under the UAE Labour Law. Last amended in 2001, this states that permanent employees in the private sector are entitled to 45 days of maternity leave, fully paid, including the time before and after delivery, provided that the continuous period of service with the employer is not less than one year. For pregnant employees who have worked less than a year, maternity leave is offered with half pay.
In addition to the prescribed rest period, a working woman nursing her baby is entitled to two additional 30-minute breaks everyday for 18 months after the birth of her baby. These additional breaks are considered part of her working hours and no deduction in wages can be made. At the end of maternity leave, private sector employees have the right to extend maternity leave, with a maximum of 10 days without pay. This additional leave can be continuous or interrupted - if caused by illness which must be confirmed to the employer by a certified government physician.
For women employed within the government sectors in Dubai, permanent employees are entitled to a paid maternity leave of 60 days, which can then be combined with annual leave or unpaid leave up to a maximum of 100 days from the start date. For four months after returning to work, nursing employees are authorised to leave work for up to two hours per day to feed their infant. Any benefits, such as annual leave and flights home, which are accrued during maternity leave continue to be valid during this period.
The Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) also has its own employment law which was drafted in 2004. Offering specific protection to pregnant working women, in a nutshell, it restricts employers from terminating an employment contract on the basis of pregnancy or maternity leave. Women working in the DIFC are entitled to a minimum of 65 days maternity leave with full pay for the first 33 days, then half-pay for the remaining 32 days.
Length of leave
There has long been debate over the length of maternity leave offered in the UAE. Women want to increase the time they can spend with their babies before returning to the workplace, and many of those we have spoken to at our practice state this as a reason for leaving their previous employer. With a large expat population, many women also prefer to give birth in their home countries, which requires full support from an employer by allowing longer leaves. It makes sense for companies to take action - by offering favourable maternity packages to female employees, they will retain talent rather than see it go elsewhere.
While the length of maternity leave still remains down to individual company policy rather than an implemented law at this time, awareness about longer, more flexible maternity leave is already spreading across the city of Dubai - it is to the employers' advantage to incorporate this incentive into their company policy in order to create a female-friendly environment within the workforce.
In our own office, for example, we have increased full paid maternity to three months, with employees able to extend maternity leave with the option of a further three months of unpaid leave. We also offer the option of part-time employment for returning mothers who do not want to go plunge in to fulltime work immediately after labour. Some companies also now offer paternity leave, which is a common practice in Europe and North America, enabling new fathers to take a more active role in childcare and to spend more quality time with their newborns.
There is speculation that the labour laws will soon be changed to benefit women and working mothers. The UAE government has recently set up a committee which aims to empower women in the workforce. One of the things which the committee will be reviewing is the amount of maternity leave given to new mothers in the emirates. The committee is also working towards creating a 'better work environment for women', such as by establishing flexible working hours in government departments and encouraging companies to offer part-time roles. While a timeline has not yet been announced, it is clear that positive change is on its way.
Earlier in 2016, the UAE also created the Gender Balance Index, part of the country's vision to become one of the world's top 25 countries for gender equality by 2021. The index aims to bridge the gap between the genders, both in and out of the workplace, and 'reflects the UAE leadership's vision to enhance the role of women across all sectors of society and ensure their effective participations in the country's economic development.'
Insurance during pregnancy
Pregnancy in the UAE can be expensive, so it is important to understand exactly how your company insurer will cover your costs. It is not mandatory for employers to offer pregnancy coverage in their medical insurance packages, so check with your insurance company to see if this is included. Even if it is included, if your employment contract is terminated during your pregnancy, you risk losing your coverage and may struggle to find an insurer that will offer pregnancy coverage from the outset. When planning to form a family, review both your own employer's medical insurance policies, as well as the modalities of your husband's coverage through his employer, which may cover spouses and pregnancy.
Next week, we will look into what legal measures can be taken should one be a victim of discrimination due to maternity leave or pregnancy.
(To be concluded next week)
The writer is head of the Iran desk at Fichte Legal Consultants. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper's policies.
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