While many Middle Eastern countries are busy progressively tightening up their labour laws to make it ever more difficult for expat workers to migrate to their countries, the UAE seems to be doing the complete opposite.
We reported recently, for example, that Saudi Arabia is considering new rules to gently reduce the number of expats working there, while Oman has now put in place a ban on returning workers for two years.
In contrast, the UAE could potentially benefit from these estranged workers by opening up their labour market to ever more people.
While the United Arab Emirates are as keen as any country to ensure they are getting value-for-money from their workforce, it seems that recent global opinion may have had an impact on the relaxing of local employment laws.
While in many ways the UAE maintains an enviable reputation among global expat destinations, offering a higher quality of life than many competing countries, a few concerns have been raised as of late, particularly with regards to less-skilled migrants.
One common cause of complaint is that some expats agree on a job offer, make the difficult move to the UAE and then on arrival discover that the terms of their employment have in some way been changed. Perhaps their salary has been lowered, their duties changed or their working hours altered. Generally speaking in the past there was little that expats could do about such situations.
Indeed, expats opting to leave the country without fulfilling a minimum of two year’s work could find themselves prevented from re-entering the UAE for at least six months. In many ways this bound expats to their employers no matter what the circumstances.
Such lack of flexibility has long been a cause for concern among expats, with the lack of mobility making it difficult to resolve any issues or to transfer to an employer offering more favourable working conditions.
Now, however, the Labour Ministry has heralded a new era for expats in the UAE by changing employment laws to help avoid such situations occurring in the future.
One notable change is that a written offer of work to an expat shall now be seen as a legally-binding contract. In such ways employers will be unable to benefit from workers who feel “trapped” into signing contracts that differ from their original offer
Additionally, for now the 6-month ban on those not completing at least two years of work for a given employer has also been removed. This therefore makes it easier for expats to leave unsuitable work, or to transition to new employers offering better conditions.
While, admittedly, the no-return ban only applied to those without degree-level education, it will still be strongly welcomed by many workers, who will now be able to make decisions about where they will be most valued, without worrying about unpleasant repercussions.
The new laws went into effect on January 1st 2016. Only time will tell what sort of impact this has on the UAE’s expat workforce, and whether forthcoming expat surveys will reflect this more moderate way of managing employees.