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UAE National Service Law - What employers need to know

The much anticipated UAE National Service Law (“Law”) has now been published. This article looks at the headline provisions for private sector employers.

The Law is quite short and there remain a lot of unanswered questions about the detailed arrangements for national service and it is anticipated that these will be addressed by way of subsequent resolutions.

Who does it apply to?

National service is mandatory for all male UAE nationals that are::

  • between 18 and 30 years old;
  • medically fit; and
  • obtain approval of the National and Reserve Service Committee.

At present service is optional for women.

The Law does not define who will be considered a UAE national however the UAE Armed Forces have indicated that the requirement for service will be linked to citizenship papers rather than passports. Therefore, it is envisaged that anyone with a UAE family book and falls within the above criteria will have to register for national service.

The only son of a family and as well as individuals who are deemed to be medically unfit will receive a permanent exemption from military service. There are a number of temporary exemptions in respect of those who are the sole providers for their families and also for those serving jail terms. 

How long is service? 

Recruits who have completed their General Certificate of Secondary Education will be required to serve nine months, while those who have not will serve two years. Women who volunteer will serve nine months, regardless of their education level. 

Can it wait?  

National service can only be postponed where the person:

  • is a student of a university, college, institution and training centre who is less than 29 years old and is enrolled in a course with a duration of two years or more, or
  • obtained a 90 per cent grade point average or better in their General Certificate of Secondary Education, or
  • has not completed secondary education.

Federal Authority for Government Human ResourcesFederal Authority for Government Human Resources

Is it paid?

Private sector employers will be required to pay half the salary to their employees called up as recruits during the period of national service; the UAE Armed Forces will pay the remaining half.

Do jobs remain open?

A recruit’s job will have to be reserved until they complete their national service and they will continue to receive their salary, bonus, allowances, promotions and/or raises as if they were performing their job duties. This does have much wider implications in circumstances where, for example, an individual is hired on a fixed term contract that will expire during his period of national service or where an employer seeks to either restructure or wind down operations whilst an employee is on national service. At present there is no clarity on these issues.

Continuous employment?

Any individual called up for service whilst employed will have his period of national service counted towards his continuous period of service. Any period of national service for an individual that is recruited during or after their national Service will have this period of national service taken into account by their employer for the purpose of end of service dues, pension and other rights arising from the job. The Law states that the cost of this measure shall be borne by the Armed Forces. It is not clear yet how this will work in practice.

Further clarity required

It was widely reported in the media before the publication of the Law that employers would be required to give priority in recruitment and promotion to those who have completed their national service. The Law is silent on this issue however the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources announced that current governmental human resources legalisation would be amended to reflect that desire. The position in respect of the private sector is not yet clear although it has been reported that consultations with relevant stakeholders are to take place. 

No provisions have yet been outlined which would allow employers to seek to postpone or stagger the national service on economic or other business related grounds. Smaller employers may face logistical problems where they have a demographic of young male employees who are called for national service at the same time. The additional resolutions may address this. 

Conclusion

The Law has set out the broad parameters of the scheme but more detail is eagerly awaited - by way of Executive Regulations and other measures - whereupon employers will have a better idea of how the scheme will work in practice.

Recent media reports indicate that the first batch of recruits being called are just turning 18 years old which would indicate that the Armed Forces are focussing on the entry level of the 18-30 age cohort. It remains to be seen whether older recruits will be called in due course or whether the focus will remain on those turning 18. If the latter is the case then clearly the impact on employers will be minimal.

The principal concerns of employers are likely to be:

(i)    termination of a recruit for genuine economic reasons;

(ii)    the mechanics of how pension contributions will be recouped from the Armed Forces;

(iii)    sequencing of the call up to ensure that a lot of employees from the same employer are not called at the same time which would cause logistical issues and a loss of institutional knowledge for the employer;

(iv)   whether nationals in the private sector who completed national service must receive priority in respect of promotion over non-nationals and if so how it would work in practice.