There’s never enough time at home with their new babies when new mothers and fathers have to return to work, but parental leaves in the UAE have traditionally been among the shortest in the world — until now.
Those leaves expand with the introduction of UAE labor laws governing maternity and paternity on February 2, 2022. Federal Decree-Law No 33, which brings sweeping changes, replaces the previous decree which has been in place since 1980. This new law comes as a breath of fresh air to working parents-to-be in the UAE.
For expectant mothers, Article 30 of the new law provides an extension of maternity leave in the private sector to 60 days. That involves 45 days of leave at full pay followed by 15 days at half pay. The new provisions for maternity leave also apply in cases of stillborn babies and newborn deaths. In addition, 45 days of unpaid leave is extended in the event that an employee suffers a pregnancy-related illness.
Dee Popat, senior legal consultant and head of the family department at James Berry and Associates, says: “The extra time afforded to new mothers will no doubt provide them with the valuable time following a pregnancy and likely produce a rested worker who will be more efficient upon returning to work. The provisions could also potentially cut the need for sick leave following the return to work after the birth.
The new law applies to all companies and employees within the private sector, giving women the same level of protection as men.
“Article 4 prohibits discrimination on grounds of gender among other things. The protection will also be a step towards women feeling more respected in the workplace,” says Popat.
Maternity benefits improved
The new provisions are welcome ,as many new mothers struggled with the limitations of the previous law. One new mom in Dubai recalls using vacation time to extend her maternity leave.
“Following my delivery in September 2021, I took the staple maternity leave and combined it with my annual leave. I had saved 22 days once I found out about the pregnancy, thereby giving me nearly 70 days of leave, which in my opinion was still short. Unpaid leave, which was also allowed by my employer, was not a favorable option for me and therefore I rejoined work following completion of paid leave,” she says.
While the new law provides an extension of up to 60 days maternity leave for private sector employees, it falls short of being on par with international standards, and this new mother thinks it needs to go farther.
“The revised law should also take into consideration the mother’s wellbeing,” she says. “I personally underwent an emergency cesarean with my recovery period lasting nearly 12 weeks. Although physically ready to resume work by then, mentally I was nowhere close.”
Paternity benefits fall short under new law
Some say there are also issues with the benefits provided to fathers, too.
“Fathers should equally have the option to spend time with the family,” she says. “They also are the main support system for their spouse following the birth of a child especially in households that do not have any help. In my case, my husband’s five calendar days of paid leave was exhausted by the time I was discharged from the hospital.”
Kevin Potter, a new dad who welcomed a baby in December 2021, agrees.
“I don’t feel like five days is near enough time for fathers,” he says. “Between the birth and hospital stay, the five days only covers two to three days at home if everything goes well at birth. Many nurses seemed surprised that I stayed at the hospital with my wife as they said most men don’t because they have to work. This does not allow time for a father to bond with his child or to support his wife. I am grateful for the five days I receive here in the UAE as I did not receive any paternity days when my first two children were born in my home country.”
Although he didn’t know a “magic number” for the amount of days fathers should get, he estimated that 10 to 15 would be much more helpful.
“Five of which can be used up to six months after birth and 10 of which need to be used within the first month,” he said. “This allows the father to help with the changing environment at home when the baby arrives and allows him to take time as needed due to any number of things such as doctors visits, illness, wife returning to work, etcetera.”
He is, however, glad that women are being given more time to spend with their children.
“I understand that it is hard to have employees not at work for long periods of time, but I believe that we must support our workers emotionally and requiring a new mother to return to work soon after birth doesn’t do that,” he said. “Any extension of maternity leave benefits are, in my opinion, a good thing and this law is doing that.”
Following the letter of the law
The new law specifies a minimum number of days of maternity leave that must be allowed, but employers are allowed to grant longer leave periods at their discretion.
“Private sector employers should review and adjust their internal policies and procedures in order to comply with the new law,” says James Berry, senior legal consultant and managing partner at James Berry and Associates. In the event that an employee is not extended maternity or paternity rights in accordance with the new law, Berry advises raising the matter with the line or HR manager, and seeking legal advice if they aren’t happy with the outcome, he advised.