Dubai government employees are now entitled to three months’ paid maternity leave, after new rules came into effect. The law was approved in January by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai and chairman of the Executive Council, and replaces the previous allowance of 45 days paid leave.

Annual paid leave can be combined with maternity leave, giving up to 120 days in total, and leave may commence up to 30 days before the mother’s due date, as long as all maternity leave is taken consecutively. Two hours per day for breastfeeding is also permitted for the first year after birth, though this is reduced to one hour during Ramadan.

Helen McGuire, co-founder & MD at Hopscotch, an organisation dedicated to helping women get back into the workforce after having children, said she applauded and welcomed any initiative from the government “to move the needle on gender equality and specifically maternity rights”.

“The extension of maternity leave to 120 days is encouraging and helps to pave the way for a more gender-balanced workforce, as well as preventing the ‘leaky pipeline’ of professional women that is so very present in the region,” she said.

Women currently occupy 66 percent of government jobs in the UAE, with 30 percent of those in senior positions. “More women in the workforce simply represents good business sense and anything that encourages this aim is a step in the right direction,” added McGuire. “Better maternity leave also means that mothers can feel more confident about being able to retain and return to their role and that they are fully present for the all-important first months of their baby’s life.”

While the law does not apply to private sector companies, several have voluntarily increased the maternity leave they offer. Omnicom Media Group MENA recently doubled its maternity leave to 90 days.

Elie Khouri, CEO of Omnicom, said: “We firmly believe the secret to leading a happy life is by prioritising your family and harmony at home over everything else; work should always come second. This is just one policy change that has come out of our efforts to gather staff feedback. We will continue to listen closely to their views and roll out new initiatives that enhance and optimise their environment.”

Kuwaiti-based conglomerate Alghanim Industries has increased maternity leave to 90 paid days for its UAE employees, and Dubai-based real estate company MENA Properties now offers women 60 days’ maternity leave.

Currently, in the UAE private sector, the law states that a female employee must complete one year of continuous service before being entitled to fully paid maternity leave for 45 calendar days. New mothers who have worked for less than one year receive 45 days at half pay. In both scenarios, maternity leave includes pre- and post-natal periods. An additional 100 days of unpaid leave can be taken if there is a pregnancy- or delivery-related illness. Mothers also get two 30-minutes breaks per day to breastfeed.

The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) offers new mothers who have worked for at least one year 65 working days maternity leave, with the first 33 days on full pay and the remaining 32 days paid at 50 per cent.

“We would love to see the idea of enhanced maternity leave extended to the private sector, and strongly urge businesses to follow suit,” said McGuire. “We also feel some accountability should be introduced on these issues. The alternative is to lose well-trained, loyal women who want to work but find their limits tested by the current 45-days law. One hundred and twenty days is the minimum mothers should expect.”

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