x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Over-60 UAE free zone workers subject to yearly visa renewal

On your side: The Ministry may renew the employment visa of employees aged 60 or over for one year at a time. Each time the visa expires, the Ministry of Interior may, at their discretion, continue to renew the employment visa for one more year until the employee reaches 65.

I understand the UAE Labour Law on retirement age has been amended, changing from 60 to 65 years. I work for a private company in a free zone, so I assume this law also applies to them. Are employers obliged to extend employment contracts to individuals beyond 60 or can they decide if this is something they want to do? I will be 59 soon and need to know how this will affect me as I would like to remain working in the UAE. BM, Dubai


Generally free zone authorities have their own regulations, although these largely follow the provisions of UAE Federal law no 8 issued in 1980 which covers legislation relating to employment and this is the case for you. I understand that the renewal of employment visas for employees of legal entities incorporated within the free zone, who have reached the age of 60, is subject to the Ministry of Interior's approval. The ministry may renew the employment visa of employees aged 60 or over for one year at a time. Each time the visa expires, the Ministry of Interior may, at its discretion, continue to renew the employment visa for one more year until the employee reaches 65, although there may be some leeway, dependent upon the qualifications and expertise of the individual. It is not mandatory for an employer to retain an employee beyond 60 and ending their employment for this reason would not be considered arbitrary dismissal.

I attempted to book a flight via the Etihad online booking service on December 8, 2012 but when I reached the final stage of the booking and had entered my credit card details to pay, the website crashed. I was unsure of the booking's status so decided to wait 24 hours to see if a booking confirmation email came through and if payment was taken from my credit card. I received nothing so over 24 hours later, I rebooked the flight. This was successful as I received a confirmation email and the credit card was debited instantly. Then on February 8, I received emails from Etihad regarding the two bookings, one of which appeared to relate to the failed attempt to book tickets on December 8. Checking my credit card records, it appeared that the money for this booking was taken from my credit card on December 31, some 23 days after the original failed booking. I received no correspondence from Etihad regarding this or the irregularities of the payment. I contacted the customer services department and the representative I spoke to on February 14 assured me a refund for the tickets booked in error would be forthcoming. Subsequent calls got me no further and I was eventually asked to provide a copy of my credit card statement and was then told that a refund would be processed. It has now been months since I raised the problem and I am still out of pocket. RS, Abu Dhabi

This matter was referred to my contacts at Etihad who were able to quickly resolve the issue. It appears that a refund was made to the customer's bank at the end of May, but the bank failed to credit it to his account. Etihad has written to Mr S to apologise for the errors and delays. The airline admits that the service in this case fell below its usual standard and they will address the service issues. Mr S is satisfied with the outcome.

I have received a number of text messages about 'liberating' my pension. This was to my UK number which I use for my business. One of them even said I could access all the money in my pension fund within weeks and that it was approved by HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs). Is this legitimate? I am 47 and have one pension plan from an old employer. JA, Dubai

I am hearing that more and more of these types of text message are being sent to mobile phones and not just to UK numbers, but to anyone who may have a UK pension policy. If the originator is contacted, they claim there is a legal loophole allowing people to access their pensions early and receive all monies in cash. They often then start pressuring people to transfer their pension policies to a new scheme. JA is quite right to be suspicious as this course of action, known as taking an unauthorised payment, could lead to a penalty of up to 70 per cent of the value of the pension fund, leaving individuals with decimated pension provision. Any organisation offering this illegal transfer should be referred to the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK. It is worth pointing out that provided monies are not taken out of a pension scheme before the age of 55, transferring to an alternative pension arrangement is perfectly legal and can have benefits, but this must be properly investigated. After 55, individuals may access some cash in pension funds, subject to specified legal limits and, again, unbiased advice should be obtained before taking any action.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Contact her at keren@holbornassets.com