UAE: Women hail new labour law as empowering, game-changing

UAE: Women hail new labour law as empowering, game-changing

As published in Khaleej Times
By Sherouk Zakaria

Recent legislation also affords female employees extended maternity leave, equal salary

Female employees in the UAE’s private sector feel empowered as the new labour law introduces anti-discrimination and harassment provisions, equal pays and extended maternity leaves.

Announced on Monday, the Federal Decree Law No. 33 of 2021 regulating labour relations introduced major reforms effective from February 2, 2022, placing women empowerment at its centre.

Neen Hassan, a legal and corporate strategy consultant, welcomed the anti-harassment and bullying provisions to prohibit breaching incidents that employees have long been subjected to.

The new laws, Hassan added, will bring a positive impact to women, with hopes to see enforcement in full force.

“The consideration given to enable extended maternity leave for mothers with infirm babies or infants with disabilities is also a welcoming progress in the right direction, especially with new mothers.”

She noted that equal wage is equally positive progress in closing the pay gap between both genders, though they must be extended to race discrimination.

“There are different pay rates/brackets being applied to employees by employers based on their nationalities – and the practice is still very much commonplace to this date and is even prevalent in high-level management roles,” she noted.

As a woman in a male-dominated field, Yomna Garada, senior consultant in urban planning, said by ensuring equal pay and duties, the new law will endorse women’s presence as active players in the workplace.

“Most decision-makers in the construction field are men, which makes it difficult for women to make a real impact or have their voices heard. Having a law that prohibits discrimination in terms of employee selection for certain duties and tightening the pay gap will empower more women to enter the field and have an equally influential impact.”

Once fully enforced, Garada noted, the new amendments will make the workplace more supportive of women fulfilling other obligations at home by offering extended maternity leaves.

Echoing similar thoughts, Alina Maksim, an interior designer, said the law would prohibit discrimination against women based on social conditions.

“Employers often reject female applicants for reasons of pregnancy or marriage. In job interviews, I would often get asked whether I am married, which is a question that is rarely directed at men. Clear anti-discrimination policies, I believe, will help put an end to such violations.”

She praised the law as a step forward in a country that has always shown commitment to empowering women and achieving gender equality in the workplace through different policies and initiatives. Emphasis on anti-sexual harassment, in particular, is essential to make women feel safe to speak up and safeguard their rights, noted Maksim.

Marziah Rashid, a consultant, said the extended maternity leave allows women to pursue professional opportunities and motherhood at the same time.

“Since a lot of female professionals in the UAE are from backgrounds that uphold collectivist family values, yet embrace modern values at the same time, the new law will enable them to fulfill different duties without sacrificing their career progress,” said Rashid.

What the new law says:

Article 4 of Federal Decree Law No. 33 of 2021 regulating labour relations expressively stipulates equal pay for women performing the same job as men. Discrimination is also prohibited in terms of employment duties in the same workplace.

The new amendments also emphasize that all provisions regulating the employment of workers shall apply without discrimination to working women. In the anti-discrimination provisions, employers are prohibited from hiring on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, nationality, or disability that would weaken equal opportunity or impair equality in the workplace.

Extended maternity leaves

The new labour law extends maternity leave in the private sector, reaching 60 days in total, including 15 days on half wage.

In cases of illness for the mother or the newborn, the employee can receive an additional 45 days without pay once the initial maternity leave is over upon providing an official sick leave.

New mothers of infants with special needs are entitled to a 30-day paid leave after the completion of their initial maternity leave, renewable for another 30 days with no pay. This provision applies upon providing a medical report of the child’s case.

Anti-harassment provisions

Article 14 of the new law expressively prohibits sexual harassment, bullying, or the use of verbal, physical, or emotional violence against employees by the employer, superiors or colleagues.

Under the same article, the employer may not use any means of coercion, penalty threat or force to perform a task against their will.