Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s new parental leave law is not just family-friendly, but also benefits most those private sector workers who were always in need of support, experts have said.
Hailing the decree, human resources experts say it is expatriate families with lower incomes who usually find it the hardest to avail time off for the fathers after the birth of a child.
“[By the same token], it is also these families who often find it the hardest to avail of child care or support for the new mums. In contrast, international firms and big companies often grant their male employees three days of leave after the birth of a baby. So the parental leave mandate will, in practice, help male expat workers who did not previously have access to such leave. It will allow them to celebrate the arrival of the youngest family member,” said Mark Nutter, chief executive officer of HR platform, Emirates HR.
On Sunday, President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan approved amendments to the federal law on the regulation of labour relations, granting private sector employees access to five days of paid leave after the birth of a baby. The leave can be availed up to six months after the delivery.
While it is not fully clear whether this leave can be added to a female employees’ maternity leave, experts believe the new leave applies primarily to male employees.
A number of private sector companies in the UAE, especially larger firms, already allow male workers three to five days of paid leave after the birth of a baby. In essence therefore, the new law sets a standard for other firms and signals to the companies that they have to provide benefits, in addition to attractive pay packages, in order to be able to attract talent, Nutter said.
“Employees have had a torrid time over the last few months, so this is a hopeful sign for them. It also shows how the UAE values the role of fathers in children’s upbringing,” he added.
Ola Haddad, director of human resources at bayt.com, said the law will help cement the UAE’s status as a family-friendly work destination.
“The UAE has always been a welcoming and tolerant country and is doing its best to support workers, both Emiratis and expats, by issuing new rules. The UAE, always a favourite work destination, is becoming even more friendly of late with the new parental leave law. This law will probably bring many benefits to the job market. It will encourage work in the private sector, improve the retention of women employees at the workplace and help employees maintain a healthy work-life balance,” Haddad said.
The UAE also provides 45 calendar days of maternity leave with full pay to female private sector employees who have completed one year of continuous service at the company in question, as well as 45 calendar days at half pay for those with less than a year of service.
Family support experts like ‘doulas’ (non-medical, trained companion) also welcomed the regulation, saying a father’s support can be instrumental to the recovery of a new mom and the development of a newborn infant.
“Mums often need a break after [welcoming a new life] and a father’s presence provides both physical and moral support post-partum. I’ve seen many fathers heading immediately back to work after the baby’s arrival, and this can be tough on everyone,” said Sabah Naseer, a certified birth ‘doula’ at the More Than Birth Collective based in Dubai.
While the leave is accessible for up to six months after delivery, Naseer said it can be particularly helpful during the first few days after delivery.
“I personally feel this is the best time, especially as there is a lot of paperwork to be done. The leave should also help them bond with the baby,” she added.
The signal sent to the private sector about the importance of family welfare is perhaps the best aspect about the decree.
Soumaya Dia, 37, a German-Moroccan mother-of-three, said she remembered how her husband had to work on his laptop from the hospital room while she struggled to breastfeed her baby.
“Many expat mums don’t have family support and we are fully dependent on our partners. Often, when a birth does not go as planned, mums may also need additional support. So every single day of paid leave for new parents is a huge thing: It can help mothers have the time to establish breastmilk supply, or even set in place a much-needed schedule,” she said.