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Labor Laws in United Arab Emirates’ Aviation Essay

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Updated: Jun 11th, 2020

Executive Summary

The United Arab Emirates is renowned for its state-of-the-art aviation industry. The country has witnessed a tremendous growth in the aviation industry regarding the number of both domestic and international flights. The United Arab Emirates has good labor laws that guarantee efficient operations of the airline sector. The rules stipulate the terms of employment for both local and foreign workers. Moreover, they outline the terms of hiring both women and juveniles. One may argue that the aviation industry has witnessed its current growth due to strong labor laws.


The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) aviation industry is famous for its constant novelty and cutting edge development. The industry has for a long time maintained an enviable safety record. Apart from the network and fleet growth, the aviation industry is in the process of diversifying its business strategies (Vespermann, Wald, & Gleich, 2013). Most airline companies have entered into partnership with airlines from foreign countries as a way to improve their international influence. For instance, Etihad has entered into code-share agreements with Australian and German airline companies. Other carriers are in the process of expanding their fleet and market share to cover foreign countries. The table below shows the fleet size of different airline companies as at 2012.

Fleet Size
Airline 2011 2012*
Emirates 168 (8 freighters) 190 (7 freighters)
Etihad 64 (7 freighters) 71 (3 freighters)
Air Arabia 29 28
Fly Dubai 21 28
RAK 4 2

Source: Vespermann et al. (2013)

The United Arab Emirates’ aviation industry comprises seven international airports that are equipped with the modern equipment. Vespermann et al. (2013) maintain, “The number of air traffic movements from, through and to UAE airports exceeded 675,000 in 2012” (p. 390). The number of traffic movements continues to increase as more people visit UAE for business and leisure. Vespermann et al. (2013) allege that the aviation industry has signed numerous Open Skies deals and enhanced the status of the present Air Services Agreements (ASAs) as a way to improve the general connectivity of the country. Indeed, the aviation industry continues to witness a high number of foreign carriers visiting the UAE. To date, “The UAE has signed fully liberalized or Open Skies agreements with 122 countries; the second largest number of such agreements after the United States” (Vespermann et al., 2013, p. 392). The table below shows the total number and nature of agreements signed in 2011 and 2012.

Type of Agreement 2011 2012
Open Skies 65 79
Liberal 37 43
Restrictive 43 36
Total 145 158

Source: Vespermann et al. (2013)

The United Arab Emirates understands the importance of liberalizing the aviation industry. The airline sector has become “a core sector of the UAE’s economy, thanks to an open approach to competition” (Vespermann et al., 2013, p. 393). According to Al-Ali (2008), the aviation industry is growing rapidly due to increase in the number of domestic and international flights. The United Arab Emirates uses a liberal aviation policy that promotes both national and international competition. The airline industry is also in the forefront in the fight against global warming. The industry has restructured its ground handling operations to minimize environmental pollution. Moreover, airport operators have come up with waste reduction and energy saving mechanisms.

Labor Laws under Practice

Employment Laws

In the United Arab Emirates, all citizens have the right to employment. The country has executive orders that require all companies to give the residents priority during recruitment. According to Article 10 of the labor laws, businesses in the United Arab Emirates are supposed to hire local employees. In the absence of the local employees, the law requires the companies to give preference to Arab-speaking workers that hail from an Arab states (Al Nahyan, 2012). In 2004, the UAE government came up with Emiratization program whose objective was to ensure that local employees secure jobs in both public and private institutions. The government instituted the Emiratization program as a strategy to curb dependence on “foreign workers and to ensure that UAE citizens benefit from economic growth in the country” (Forstenlechner, Madi, Selim, & Rutledge, 2012, p. 409).

The Free Zones that fall within UAE are exempted from the program. The labor law gives the Ministry of Labor the power to ensure that companies give the UAE nationals priority whenever there are job opportunities. The United Arab Emirates has identified insurance and banking sectors as some of the industries that UAE nationals can work. The employment law requires the firms that operate in the two areas to satisfy certain yearly quotas. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to penalize companies that do not abide by the guidelines of the Emiratization program.

Article 13 of the labor laws requires foreigners to seek the approval of the Labor Department before being employed in the UAE. Besides, aliens are supposed to obtain a work permit from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. A foreigner cannot be hired unless they meet the professional qualifications that the state needs. Moreover, a foreigner has to prove that they are in the country legally. For a foreigner to be hired, the Labor Department has to ensure that all the UAE nationals that can occupy the available vacancy have been employed (Forstenlechner et al., 2012). In 2011, the UAE government abolished the six-month ban for the non-UAE nationals. Before the abolishment of the ban, foreigners had to wait for six months before they could move to a new job after the cancelation of their work permit. Today, the six-month ban does not apply as long as there is mutual agreement between the employee and the employer. Article 17 of the labor law does not allow UAE nationals or institutions to work as recruiting agencies or supply foreign workers unless approved to do so. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Labor may instruct organizations or individuals to recruit foreign workers if the demand for non-nationals arises.

In January 2016, the United Arab Emirates will implement a new labor law that will make job offer letters legally binding. The law aims at ensuring that employers do not exploit their workers. According to the Ministry of Labor, the new law seeks mainly to protect foreigners, streamline issuance of labor permits to UAE nationals and safeguard the termination of employment contracts. According to the new labor law, any offer letter “made to a foreign worker will become legally binding once accepted and signed by both parties” (Grant, Golawala, & McKechnie, 2015, p. 511). The law requires the hiring individuals or companies to divulge to the Ministry of Labor the terms and conditions of offer promised to a foreign employee. Further, it requires employers to draft a thoughtful letter that is detailed and outlines the responsibilities and rights of the employee. The employer should ensure that the workers understand the terms of the offer and agree before they sign. The objective of the new labor law is to make sure that both the employer and the employee do not contravene the terms of the contract once they start working.

Women Labor Laws

The UAE’s labor laws do not allow women to work at night in either the aviation industry or any other industry. According to Nahyan (2012), the term “night” refers to “a period of not less than eleven consecutive hours and includes the period from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.” (p. 9). Nevertheless, the women can work at night in the case the work in the aviation industry has been suspended as a result of force majeure. Moreover, women can work at night if they are engaged in technical or managerial responsibilities. The labor laws prohibit the aviation industry from employing women in jobs that are injurious, risky or can damage their morals or health. They include jobs like cargo and baggage handling. Article 30 of the labor law stipulates that a working woman “has a right to a maternity leave with full pay for forty-five days including the time before and after delivery” (Al Nahyan, 2012, p. 9). However, for a woman to have a right to a maternity leave, she must have worked in a company for at least one year. Also, the labor laws give a working woman the right to cease working for duration of one hundred days. Nonetheless, this can only happen if the woman is sick and unable to restart working. A medical certificate has to be produced when returning to work.

Apart from the ordinary rest days outlined in the labor laws, a working woman that is taking care of a child has a right to two extra breaks every day after eighteen months from the date of delivery. Each break is supposed to last for less than 30 minutes. The employer should treat the additional breaks as working hours (Al Nahyan, 2012). Hence, the employee is entitled to full remuneration. The labor laws demand that the aviation industry pays all personnel that work in the same job group equally. In other words, the industry is not supposed to discriminate against women based on the gender.

Employment of Juveniles

The UAE’s labor laws prohibit the aviation sector from employing juveniles of either sex before they are fifteen years old. Before the industry hire’s any minor, the hiring agency must obtain documents that bears the details of the child. First, the hiring agency must get a birth certificate of the juvenile. If the juvenile does not have a birth certificate, the employer shall obtain an age estimation certificate. The certificate must come from medical personnel and bear the approval of a competent health authority (Al Nahyan, 2012). Moreover, the employer must get a certificate, which confirms that the juvenile is medically fit and can handle the required job. The aviation industry and other industries cannot hire a youth without the approval of the child’s parents, trustee, or guardian. Therefore, before hiring a minor, the employer has to request for written agreement from the child’s parent or guardian.

Article 23 of the labor laws states that no child should work at night. According to Al Nahyan (2012), the night refers to “a period of not less than twelve consecutive hours, including the period from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.” (p. 8). The law forbids the aviation industry from hiring juveniles on any job that might have adverse effects on their health. A youth is supposed to work for a maximum of six hours a day. Besides, the labor laws require the aviation industry to ensure that juveniles have breaks in between the working hours. The breaks should be organized in a way that no youth works for at least four consecutive hours. The UAE’s labor laws stipulate that no minor is allowed to work overtime. The juveniles should leave the workplace after the stipulated working hours. Besides, the law demands that the aviation industry observes the rest days that are reserved for youths. No child shall go to work during the rest days.

Individual Employment Contracts

The labor laws require the aviation industry to issue a written contract. If there is no written contract, the industry shall use legal channels to show the evidence of the contract. The contract shall explain the nature of work, the commencement date, and the date that it ends. Besides, it must specify the amount of salary. Article 37 of the labors laws states that the probation period should not be more than six months. The clause gives the employer the power to terminate the contract during the probation period without notifying the employee. The aviation industry can put an employee on probation only once. Article 37 states that the employment contract can last for a definite or indefinite period (Al Nahyan, 2012). A contract meant for a fixed period can only last for four years. Article 40 of the labor laws states that a contract shall expire after the lapse of its term. However, if the parties to a contract continue to work together even after the agreed period expires, it will be assumed that the initial contract has been prolonged. Otherwise, the parties must agree on new terms before they continue to work together.


The labor laws require the aviation industry and other industries to pay workers on a working day. The workers should be remunerated in the legally circulating national legal tender. For the workers that engage on monthly or annually remuneration, they shall get their pay at least once a month. All the other workers are supposed to get their pay at least once for a fortnight. Article 58 of the labor laws stipulates that all settlements of remunerations shall be substantiated only through declaration, writing or oath (Al Nahyan, 2012). Any other form of concord shall be invalid. Article 59 prohibits the aviation industry from forcing workers to use its services. For instance, the airline industry shall not force employees to use air transport whenever they are traveling. The employer shall not deduct any amount of money from the employee’s salary. The employer can only deduct the amount meant to cover the social security scheme. Also, the employer can deduct money from the pay to cover any debts payable. Nevertheless, the manager has to get a court order before deducting this money. Besides, the employer has to ensure that the amount deducted does not exceed a quarter of the employee’s salary.

Working Hours

Article 65 of the UAE’s labor laws states that adult workers are supposed to work for eight hours per day. However, the watchmen and restaurant attendants may work for nine hours. The time that an employee spends to travel from home to the workplace is not included in the working hours. The aviation industry is supposed to organize the daily working hours such that an employee does not work for five consecutive hours without resting (Al Nahyan, 2012). If employees work for more than the required hours, the additional time shall be treated as overtime. The overtime duration should not exceed two hours. Article 70 of the labor laws sets Friday as a public holiday for all workers except those hired on a daily basis. Any employee that works on Friday shall have a right to one day off.


Article 74 of the labor laws stipulates that every employee has the right to a paid leave during public holidays. Besides, all employees have the right to annual leave. Employees that have served for at least one year have a right to one-month vacation. The employer has the liberty to set the date that an annual leave shall commence (Al Nahyan, 2012). Further, employers have the freedom to split the leave into two parts. However, they cannot break the vacation meant for juveniles. No employee has a right to a paid sick leave during the preparatory phase. Moreover, no employee shall be remunerated during sick leave if the illness is as a result of misconduct like abuse of drugs and alcohol.

SWOT Analysis

The primary strength of the UAE labor laws is that they apply to all employees regardless of the nationality. Hence, it is hard for employers to discriminate against certain workers. Even though the labor laws protect employees from exploitation and ensure cooperation between workers and their employers, they do not set the minimum salary for the expatriates. Besides, the labor laws do not contain an article that allows the establishment of trade unions. The labor laws face a significant threat from the private organizations. For instance, the law is unable to guarantee the employment of the UAE nationals due to “alternate implementation of ministerial decisions and resolutions” (Keane & McGeehan, 2008, p. 92). According to Degorge (2007), the Ministry of Labor has enacted liberal immigration laws that have resulted in a serious inequity in the workforce. The ongoing program of Emiratization poses a significant opportunity for the UAE to strike a balance in the workforce. The program seeks to ensure that the UAE nationals get jobs based on their qualifications. The program will guarantee that the nationals do not lose jobs to foreign workers.


The United Arab Emirates is one of the countries with good labor laws. Nevertheless, a lot need to be done to strengthen the laws further. The labor laws should contain a clause that facilitates the establishment of trade unions. The trade unions can help to enhance the relationship between the employer and employees. Moreover, the labor laws should contain an article that sets the minimum salary for expatriates. The clause will ensure that companies do not take advantage of the absence of such an article to exploit workers.


The United Arab Emirates has labor laws that give all employees equal employment opportunities. The rules are meant to promote a good relationship between employers and employees. Besides, they are intended to ensure that companies do not exploit women and children. The laws exempt both women and children from working at night. Further, the laws accord women the right to fully paid maternity leave. The introduction of the Emiratization program will ensure that UAE nationals get employment opportunities. The country needs to amend the labor laws to ensure that they stipulate the minimum salary for expatriates and accommodate trade unions.


Al Nahyan, Z. (2012). . Web.

Al-Ali, J. (2008). Emiratization: Drawing UAE nationals into their surging economy. International Journal of Sociology and S ocial Policy, 28(10), 365-379.

Degorge, B. (2007). Modern day slavery in the United Arab Emirates. The European Legacy: Towards New Paradigms, 11(6), 657-666.

Forstenlechner, I., Madi, M., Selim, H., & Rutledge, E. (2012). Emiratization: Determining the factors that influence the recruitment decisions of employers in the UAE. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23(2), 406-421.

Grant, J., Golawala, F., & McKechnie, D. (2015). The United Arab Emirates: The twenty-first century beckons. Thunderbird International Business Review, 49(4), 507-533.

Keane, D., & McGeehan, N. (2008). Enforcing migrant workers’ rights in the United Arab Emirates. International Journal on Minority and Group Right, 15(1), 81-115.

Vespermann, J., Wald, A., & Gleich, R. (2013). Aviation growth in the Middle East: Impacts on incumbent players and potential strategic reactions. Journal of Transport Geography, 16(6), 388-394.

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