This information is derived from the State Department's Office of Investment Affairs’ Investment Climate Statement. Any questions on the ICS can be directed to
Last Published: 4/23/2018

The UAE economy is robust, with low unemployment among the country’s citizen population. Expatriates, who represent over 85 percent of the country’s 9.24 million residents, account for more than 95 percent of private sector workers. As a result of this ratio, there would be large labor shortages in all sectors of the economy if not for the large number of expatriate workers. Most expatriate workers derive their legal residency status from their employment.

A significant portion of the country’s expatriate labor population is comprised of low-wage workers, primarily from South Asia, who work in manual labor industries such as construction, maintenance, and sanitation. In addition, several hundred thousand domestic workers, primarily from South and Southeast Asia and Africa, work in the homes of both Emirati and expatriate families. Federal labor law does not apply to domestic, agricultural, or public sector workers. In 2014, the federal government implemented a law mandating a standard contract for all domestic workers. Various regulations require businesses in certain sectors (i.e. financial services) to employ minimum quotas of Emiratis.

Under UAE labor law, employers must pay severance to workers who complete one year or more of service, except in cases of termination under certain conditions described in Article 120 of the federal labor law, which relate to misconduct by workers. Expatriate workers do not receive UAE government unemployment insurance. Termination of UAE nationals in certain situations requires the prior approval of the Ministry of Labor.

In January 2016, the UAE implemented three new labor laws that amend Federal Law No. (8) of 1980. The first law seeks to restrict employers from engaging in “contract switching;” it requires companies to provide job offers that mirror a standard employment contract in a language that prospective workers understand. Employers must then submit the signed contracts to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (previously the Ministry of Labor) at the time of the workers’ visa applications. Workers sign the contract a second time after entering the UAE. The second and third laws concern the termination of an employment relationship, and are intended to increase the laborers’ job mobility. Under the second law, workers may seek a new job if an employer fails to meet certain contract terms, or if the worker reaches an agreement with the employer or provides stipulated notice. Under the third law, employees who legally terminate an employment contract may obtain a new work permit with a different employer in the UAE.

Although UAE federal law prohibits the payment of recruitment fees, many prospective workers continue to make such payments in their home countries. There are no minimum wages legally mandated by the UAE; however, some labor sending countries require their citizens to receive minimum wage levels as a condition for allowing them to work in the UAE.

Federal Law No. 8 of 1980 prohibits labor unions. The law also prohibits public sector employees, security guards, and migrant workers from striking and allows employers to suspend private sector workers for striking. In addition, employers have the ability to cancel the contracts of striking workers, which can lead to deportation. Despite this, some labor protests and strikes have occurred, though these are typically resolved through government mediation. According to government statistics there were approximately 30 to 60 strikes per year between 2012 and 2015 (the last year for which data is available).

Mediation plays a central role in resolving labor disputes. The federal Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation and local police forces maintain telephone hotlines for labor dispute and complaint submissions. Disputes not resolved by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation move to the labor court system.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation inspects company workplaces and company-provided worker accommodations to ensure compliance with UAE law. Emirate-level government bodies, including Dubai Municipality, also carry out regular inspections. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation also enforces a midday break from 1230-1500 during the extremely hot summer months. The federally mandated Wage Protection System electronically transfers and monitors wages to approximately 4.5 million private sector workers (about 95% of the total private sector workforce).

The multi-agency National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking is the federal body tasked with monitoring and preventing human trafficking, including forced labor. Child labor is illegal and rare in the UAE.

Section 7 of the Department of State’s Human Rights Report describes more information on worker rights, working conditions, and labor laws in the UAE. The Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report details the UAE government’s efforts to combat human trafficking.

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United Arab Emirates Economic Development and Investment Law