UAE legal Q&As: Does the labour law apply in free zones?
A reader asks what the rights of an employee working in a free zone are and another asks if they can leave work an hour early if they do not take a lunch break
If the company I work for is in the free zone of Abu Dhabi, does the UAE’s labour law apply? If not, then what are my rights as an employee?
Some investors may elect to set up their business in free zones to avoid any complications or restrictions in the Corporate Law which requires a business to have a local investor or sponsor. This is not necessary in the free zone.
Some laws are not applicable to free zone companies, such as the tax law — though only on the condition that the company's activities do not exceed the border of the free zone. The UAE's main federal laws are absolutely applicable to such companies, such as The Federal Penal Law, since any crime takes place in the free zone shall be subject to the criminal procedures set up in the Federal Penal Law in the designated Emirate.
The answer to the most frequently asked question about whether or not the Federal Labour Law is applicable to free zone companies is yes. When the UAE courts look into any dispute or litigation between the employers and employees, the only law applicable before the labour courts is the Federal Labour Law.
Contractually, I am obligated to work 9 hours a day including a lunch break. If I do not take a lunch break can I leave after working 8 hours?
As per article number 65 of the labour law, the maximum working hour per day must not exceed 8 hours. Article 66 of the law also provides that employees must not work for more than 5 hours in a row. And the law clearly states that lunch breaks should not be included in the total number of working hours.
The same article grants only the employer the right to organise work timings in the company, as long as they are not breaking the law.
Therefore, you neither may disobey the employer's working time without the consent of the employer themselves, nor may you leave an hour earlier.
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Updated: September 15, 2018 03:20 PM