New Equal Pay Law In The UAE

While some commentators and policy makers in the Middle East are starting to see the economic case to reduce gender inequalities as they look to their post-oil futures, the moral and ethical reasons for equality remain paramount. Yet, while the UAE ranks second in the Middle East for ‘wage equality for similar work’, it fares far less well in global gender rankings, ranked 120 out of 144 countries in the 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report (Duncan, 2018). This is despite its near four decade old labour law of 1980 actually containing an equal pay for equal work provision, although only covering the private sector.

Therefore, the UAE government has made several moves towards trying to narrow the gender gap.

For example, it launched in 2015 the UAE Gender Balance Council, a federal entity working to enhance the role of women in all fields (Entrepreneur, 2018) and in 2017 the Gender Balance Guide to lessen gender gaps, developed with the OECD and which touches on HRM tools, policy guidelines and performance structures as well as tips for promoting work-life balance and equal pay and job opportunities.

Now an equal pay law was recently approved, albeit not covering the private sector. Nevertheless, this move represents an important and significant step in the right direction as it is a public statement of intent.

However, enforcement will be a challenge, as shown in many economies, which have to review such legislation in practice. For example, the UK has had equal pay laws for nearly half a century yet inequality remains (Rowley, 2016), as seen in the need for the new gender pay gap reporting regime, the most comprehensive in the world (Rowley, 2018).

Yet, even in the UK, it is reported that 500 employers did not even bother to submit any data, despite having a year to do so, inaction which can be taken as a clear indication of the disregard and lack of importance senior managers attach to this crucial matter.

So, pertinent questions to consider are:

  1. Which sectors, size of organisations and workers are covered by the law?
  2. What is covered by ‘pay’?
  3. How long will organisations have to implement the regulations?
  4. How will the requirements be enforced?
  5. What will the penalties be for breaches?
  6. When will the private sector be included to give a more reliable picture?

It is noted that pay gaps exist in certain industries and nationalities (Duncan, 2018). This is due to:

1) HR policies, such as preventing female employees from receiving housing allowances (often a major benefit) if it is part of their partner’s package; or

2) labour markets and workforce distribution, with certain non-nationals where more women are in the administration jobs rather than in highly skilled jobs within banking or specific sectors like oil and gas (Duncan, 2018).

Of course, an important question is not whether gender pay gaps exist but why they do. We may hypothesise they may result from lack of females in senior positions, as found in our research (Rowley et al, 2014) which showed continued gender imbalance in senior posts and promotions with stymied female careers with barriers due to poor ‘signaling’ of success stemming from:

  • networks and nomination process bias;
  • Rrole model and mentor shortages;
  • work-family balance;
  • cognitive behaviour.

In terms of what can be done, we can note the following.

There is a need for HR practitioners to recognise, acknowledge and step up to the challenge. This involves them looking at the organisation’s culture and leadership as well as the key HR policies and practices of resourcing, development and promotion.

Cutting against greater gender pay parity by addressing the lack of females in senior posts are a set of issues. Even organisational/structural ones are ground in and underpinned by deeper residing cultural ones. For example, even with greater emphasis given to work-family balance, tension remains between offering family friendly policies, including part time working, as it is then too often penalised with stunted pay and career progression.

To address this, firms need to:

  • normalise views of all non-full time forms of work for all and not just females;
  • reduce perceptions about those forms of work traditionally done by females being seen as less valued; and
  • recognise and value (not penalise) less typical, non-linear career paths and patterns.

Some of the above in turn require HR interventions and reinforcements in areas such as job descriptions, job responsibility, reward and promotion systems and a key, cultural change.

Duncan, G. (2018) ‘Draft law brings UAE closer to ensuring equal wages for men and women’, The National, 10 April

Entrepreneur (2018) ‘UAE passes equal pay legislation to narrow gender gap, Entrepreneur, 12 April
Rowley, C. (2016) ‘Gender pay gaps in the UK’, Changeboard, 18 Nov

Rowley, C. (2018) ‘Gender Pay Gap Reporting’ Vertical Distinct, 29 April

Rowley, C., Lee. J and Lan, L (2014) ‘Why females might say no to corporate board positions: The Asia Pacific in comparison’, Asia Pacific Business Review, 20, 4, pp.513-22


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