Opinion: Increased flexibility should benefit the UAE's workforce

The UAE's new part-time working regulations could help control labour costs while boosting employees' income
By Murtaza Khan
Tue 15 May 2018 12:35 PM

Over the past few years, we have seen the UAE government introduce a number of changes aimed at improving the rights of workers.

These range from standardised employment contracts to health insurance and the protection of wages. More recently, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) introduced the part-time employment system in an effort to enhance the flexibility of the labour market.

The system indicates a further shift from a sponsor-centric to a worker-centric labour migration system in the UAE.

So, who do these changes apply to? The part-time employment rules apply to foreign nationals as well as Emirati citizens holding a university degree or specialised technical diploma.

Categorised as first- and second-skill grade professions, according to the MOHRE classification system, these would include directors, managers, engineers, skilled technicians and other skilled individuals across several industries including IT, healthcare, and academia.

It is worth clarifying that individuals with residence visas will only receive an electronic labour card issued by the MOHRE, while those recruited from outside the UAE will have to undergo the full immigration process with medical examination and endorsement of a residence permit.

Meanwhile, employers can be divided into two categories: primary and secondary. A primary employer is the one who recruits an employee from outside of the country, or the first employer for which the UAE-based employee works on a part-time basis.

This employer is responsible for the employee’s annual leave, end of service gratuity payment and other financial liabilities, along with any recruitment-related fees, as per the standard conditions of the UAE labour law.

The secondary employer is regarded as any employer other than the primary employer. The parties may agree that the employee receives benefits similar to those applicable through a primary employer. The secondary employer will be responsible for the payment of any government fees related to securing the part-time work permit.

The system has advantages for larger organisations, since employers with multiple businesses can now employ their workers across two different entities”

Cui bono?

Given the number of parties involved, one thing is unclear: who exactly benefits? As it turns out, they all do – and so does the wider UAE labour market. The new system has the potential to drive the productivity of the existing workforce while enabling workers to earn additional income.

Meanwhile, employers across a range of sectors benefit. An example would be that of the medical and education industries. Part-time and shift-based skilled workers can now work for two different employers simultaneously, thereby bringing their skills to the role, as needed by employers, while utilising their own time as it suits them. Small- and medium-sized businesses benefit as well, especially those that do not have the budget for hiring highly-skilled workers on a full-time basis. Now, under the new system, they have access to a greater range of highly-skilled workers on a part-time basis.

The system also has its advantages for larger organisations, since employers with multiple businesses can now employ their workers across two different entities according to business needs. Previously, this would have been difficult, given the limitations of temporary work permits. Now, these employers have an option for reduced costs of recruitment by utilising existing skilled workers.


The Rules

Dr Omar Abdul Rahman Al Nuaimi, assistant undersecretary for International Relations at the Ministry Human Resources, outlines the rules.

“The new system will enhance the flexibility of the labour market; it will meet the needs of the employers from the existing labour market and thus reduce dependence on labour being sourced from outside the country. The system will also contribute to attracting and retaining the skills and expertise to enhance the productivity of the labour market in the country.

“The part-time contract is subject to the same rules and penalties applicable to the regular employment contracts, either fixed-term or non-fixed-term. The hours the skilled worker can put in with the two employers must not exceed eight a day and 48 a week. The employee must also enjoy at least one day weekly rest.”


Employee benefits

Similar to how employers benefit from increased options, employees benefit immensely from the system as well. These individuals can now contribute to the economy in more productive and creative ways given they can bring their unique skills to each role while dividing their time between employers effectively. They are no longer limited in their employment options, and can therefore explore their career interests more fully.

In fact, under these conditions, individuals can even work for a business similar to their primary employers’ business. While the new system protects the worker’s right to do so, unless otherwise requested by the relevant court, it would be prudent that the parties take professional advice to manage concerns relating to non-competition or the disclosure of confidential information.

While clear communication is key, employers have less steps to go through overall. It’s not necessary to obtain approval from another employer, and foreign workers no longer require a letter of no objection for working with another employer. As long as the employee informs the employers once their work permit has been issued through the second employer, they can pursue part-time work.

Overall, employees have the ability to further their career goals through part-time work as a result of increased flexibility within the labour market. As employees flourish, so do the employers that benefit from their productivity and skills, allowing them to further grow their businesses. Through the effective utilisation of talent, the UAE economy inevitably benefits. In light of this, it will be interesting to see how the part-time system continues to bring positive changes to the UAE workforce going forward.


Murtaza Khan, partner, Fragomen, a global immigration advisory firm

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Last Updated: Thu 17 May 2018 02:55 PM GST

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