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Amending UAE maternity laws

Amending UAE maternity laws

Sharjah’s amendments to the maternity leave law and introduction of paternity leave should serve as a role model for its less flexible neighbours, says Eva Fernandes.

January 18, 2011 2:47 by

It isn’t often that Sharjah gets into the news for progressive legislation.  But its most recent amendments to the maternity leave law are a welcome change, and certainly one its neighbouring and more populous Emirates should take note of.

According to the new amendment, a woman will be entitled to fully paid maternity leave for 60 days, starting from as early as two weeks ahead of her due date. And she will be allowed to extend her annual maternity leave for a maximum of 100 days without pay. In addition, working women will be allowed to take a daily break of two hours for the first six months, and an hour long break during the second six months, for the purpose of taking care and nursing her child.

But what is exceptionally commendable, and is definitely a step in the right direction, is the fact that the new amendments also entitles male employees, who have just become parents, to a paternity leave of three consecutive days during the first month of the child’s birth.

Though new fathers would probably prefer to have more than three days off from work, the new law is a refreshing change here in the emirates. After all it hasn’t been more than three months since the United Nation revealed statistics that showed the UAE had the lowest maternity leave in the world. According to the Maternity Protection Convention 2000 of the International Labour Organization, the international standard for maternity leave is 14 weeks. The UAE offers a shameful 45 days for its working women, which is somewhere between six and seven weeks.  As Kipp has noted before, having such restrictive maternity leave laws in a country which boasts of empowering women (who make up nearly half of its workforce), is truly a wrong the UAE needs to remedy.

The UAE wasn’t always so restrictive when it came to such matters. In fact up to 2007 the country had one of the best maternity leave policies: a woman was granted two months’ fully paid leave, two months of half salary leave, and two months’ unpaid leave. An incredible luxury when compared to its current policy of 45 days of paid maternity leave and 18 hours per month for lactating purposes. We wonder what changed.

So, although Sharjah isn’t often regarded as the model for all the other emirates to follow, here’s hoping that in this respect it may positively affect UAE policy makers.

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