Federal Decree Law No. 45 of 2021 (Protection of Personal Data Law – PDPL) has been published in the Gazette, establishing the country’s first national framework for handling personal data, modeled in large part on the European Union’s Global Data Privacy regime (GDPR). The Decree Law takes effect on January 2, 2022, with implementing regulations expected to be issued by March 20, 2022, after which companies will have six months to comply. The government also announced working time changes for all federal government employees effective January 1, 2022, most notably a move to a 4.5-day workweek, Monday to Friday. The change is meant to ensure better work/life balance for workers and to align with global markets.
Both announcements are part of a substantial reform effort affecting federal laws (over 40 in total) meant to overhaul and modernize the country’s various frameworks. Among these was the publication of a new Labor Law (see our November 2021 Global News Brief U.A.E.: New labor law will introduce significant changes for more information). Note: In mid-December, the Minister of Human Resources and Emiratization was reported to have announced that new regulations on mandatory employer-paid end-of-service benefits (EOSBs) will be put forth to equalize EOSB entitlements between the public and private sectors from February 2, 2022, and to offer new and diverse options for funding EOSBs. Details on the new regulations are expected to be issued soon.
The data regime established by the PDPL is, as noted above, largely modeled on the provisions of the GDPR, providing similar norms, rights and responsibilities pertaining to the processing, storage and security of the personal data of all residents of the UAE by data processors and controllers (as defined by the PDPL), as well as disclosure and consent requirements and protections for cross-border transfers of personal data. Free zones that have their own data protection regulations (such as the Dubai International Finance Centre – DIFC) are unaffected. The newly created UAE Data Office (DO) will be the regulatory authority responsible for compliance and enforcement.
The working time changes for federal employees establishes a standard workweek of 36.5 hours composed of four eight-hour days (7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday) and one 4.5-hour day (7:30 a.m. to noon on Friday). Saturday and Sunday will become normal rest days. Currently, the normal workweek spans Sunday to Thursday. In addition, staff may request flexible work schedules, including the possibility to work from home on Fridays.
Federal employees constitute less than 4% of the workforce, but certain non-federal sectors and employers (such as education and the stock exchange) have announced that they will voluntarily adopt the federal approach, as have the Dubai and Abu Dhabi local governments (although the Sharjah government has announced it will implement a shorter, four-day workweek with Friday being a normal rest day). Among companies surveyed by Willis Towers Watson (WTW), most currently have five-day, 40-hour weekly work schedules, following the conventional work schedule of Sunday to Thursday among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. Though there is no statutory requirement for private employers to adopt the new federal workweek, many with global operations that observe a workweek of Monday to Friday are expected to do so. That said, some companies that operate on a regional basis across the GCC may prefer to retain the current workweek. Of 120 companies participating in a WTW pulse survey, 61% indicate they will be implementing the new weekend schedule; only 3% definitely are not changing, with others still undecided (75% of which expect to decide in Q1 2022). As for the PDPL, companies should review their data handling policies and practices in anticipation of the new framework.