Dubai government employees now benefit from the most generous maternity and childcare leave allowances in the UAE,  says Samir Kantaria, partner and head of employment at UAE law firm Al Tamimi.

Although the extension of the maternity leave from 45 days to three months of paid leave was approved back in January, and has been in force since March 1, this new decree - announced on April 30 2017 - has some interesting new additions.

A female government employee may now apply to start her maternity leave 30 days before her due date, and she can combine maternity leave, regular annual leave and leave without pay to make a total of 120 days of potential leave. Additionally, the Decree states that an employee who has suffered a miscarriage before the 24th week of her pregnancy is entitled to sick leave based on a duly approved medical report, which is in line with the entitlement of female workers in the UK. If the employee had a stillbirth after the 24th week, she is entitled to 60 days of maternity leave after providing a duly approved medical report.

Perhaps the most extreme part of the decree is the requirement for Dubai Government entities to establish a nursery for employees’ children below the age of four, if the total number of children of all female employees within the entity is over 20. If the total number of children is less than 20, two or more government entities can jointly establish a nursery. Government entities may also contract nurseries close to their headquarters if the entity does not have adequate space for the nursery.

The decree is quite radical for this part of the world

“The decree is quite radical, especially for this part of the world,” says Samir Kantaria, partner and head of employment at UAE law firm Al Tamimi. “Dubai was potentially late to the party in extending its maternity leave to three months, as Abu Dhabi and RAK already did so last year. But with this decree Dubai is now providing additional benefits over and above what the other emirates are providing.”

But while the changes may be positive news for women working for Dubai Government entities, what about those women in Dubai who are working for private companies?

There are reasons to be positive. Kantaria explains that in August 2016, H.H. Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, President of the Dubai Women Establishment (DWE) and wife of H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, established a committee to review the maternity law to provide women with a supportive work environment, in line with best international practices, and to activate the ‘Gender Balance Index’ across various sectors. “These changes may have been brought about as a result of the findings of this committee, which was established to look into maternity allowances not just for government employees but just generally as an issue,” says Kantaria. “It’s possible the committee may be considering pushing out the changes further in terms of the private sector, and there will inevitably be pressure from private sector employees to do so. The signs are all positive.”

However, Kantaria believes that certain elements of the decree are not likely to transfer across in the near or distant future. “If private sector companies were required to provide nurseries for instance there would certainly be a lot of pushback from employers,” says Kantaria.

It’s also possible that, in the absence of any current anti-discrimination laws, 'overly' generous maternity and childcare allowances in the private sector could potentially backfire on women and discourage employers in smaller companies from hiring women of a childbearing age.      

But does the new ruling strengthen the case of a private-sector employee looking to ask for an extension to her 45 days of leave? “Not at all,” says Kantaria. “Most employers would just say this is the private sector not the government.  However, there will certainly be pressure on potentially changing the allowance for the private sector - whether this is done at an emirate level, or whether it needs a more fundamental  change to law itself, done at a federal level. But this would take time.”

Are you pregnant and working in the UAE? Find out your rights here