November 23, 2022

Equality Policies in the GCC

Equality Policies in the GCC

Sarah Malik, Saher Khan and Kiran Gokal

Federal Decree-Law No 33/2021 On the Regulation of Labour Relations which came into force at the start of this year, dramatically changed the way equality policies are drafted in the UAE as it introduced the concepts of discrimination, harassment and equal pay in the UAE (and employee protection in these areas). As a result, UAE. Employers now need to ensure their equality policies cover all types of discrimination, bullying, harassment, assault, and any verbal, physical, or psychological harm to an employee in the workplace in order to be compliant with UAE law. Federal Decree-Law No 33/2021 also emphasises the need to grant women the same wages as men if they perform the same work or other work of equal value, so this point should also form part of a company equality policy. Paternity leave was also introduced in the UAE by Federal Decree-Law No 33/2021, so is another area to now include in an equality policy. 


Federal Decree-Law No 33/2021 has required a reassessment of equality in the workplace in the UAE and is a key focus point when drafting UAE equality policies. Article 4 of Federal Decree-Law No 33/2021 dealing with equality and non-discrimination, clearly delineates the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of ‘race, colour, sex, religion, national or social origin, or disability…’ In contrast the previous UAE Labour Law (Federal Law No. 8/1980) provided for a relatively minimal amount of protection in promoting equality in the workplace. Although it did specifically protect against discrimination in the context of pregnancy and maternity leave. 


In the UAE, as well as in other GCC countries, there are specific requirements on recruiting nationals in particular proportions, so emiratization needs to be considered when drawing up an equality policy. It should be noted Employers following the law on emiratization is not considered to be discriminatory against employees who are non-UAE nationals as it is a policy that mandates employment of Emirati nationals in various public and private jobs in order to increase numbers of UAE nationals in the job market. Ministerial Decision No. 279/2022, recently introduced an obligation to recruit Emirati employees at 2% per year for companies with over 50 employees. A similar approach is taken in Saudi Arabia and Qatar also has ‘Qatarisation’ rules that state-owned private sector companies must ensure their overall workforce is made up of at least 60% Qatari nationals. Therefore, equality policies need to explain the concept of Emiratization or the equivalent policies in other GCC states to employees. 


The Saudi government has also recently introduced a number of laws which are designed to increase the number of female employees in the private sector and boost gender equality, for example by permitting women to work at night and work in hazardous industries which was not previously the case. Wage discrimination based on gender is also prohibited in Saudi, Bahrain and Qatar. The equality policy should make it clear that following the law on gender equality would not be discriminatory. The UAE and other GCC countries are moving towards bridging the gap on gender-pay disparity and companies need to ensure their equality policies are in line with these latest changes in this area in the particular countries they operate in, in order to be compliant. 


Resolution No. 48/2018 issued by the UAE government also mandates the public sector, and encourages the private sector to uphold equality, specifically with regard to people of determination (i.e. disabled people) by protecting their rights in the workplace and ensuring they are not discriminated against. There is a specific emphasis on maintaining a working environment which is conducive to the situations of people of determination and it is important to prevent terminations due to their disability. These points should be reflected in the policy. 


As well as having a policy, in-depth culture training should also be provided to all employees to ensure the changes introduced by Federal Decree-Law No 33/2021 have been communicated to both existing and incoming employees. Through these shifts in law and specific provisions on equality, the UAE has made this a priority issue. Therefore, the country wide emphasis on equality should also be reflective in workplace policies and practice. 

This publication is not intended to offer legal advice and is solely for informational purposes.

As published by LexisNexis Middle East in the LexisNexis Middle East Law Alert November 2022