13 Nov 2018

Employment considerations for education providers in the UAE

Authored by: Rachel Hill

In brief:

  • There are a number of general employment issues which an education provider should consider when operating in the UAE.
  • This article briefly considers some of these issues, including contract form, recruitment and retention and non-compete clauses.
  • It is crucial to the successful management of an education provider that these issues are considered and bespoke contracts and internal policies are drafted to suit each education provider’s specific requirements.

Background

The United Arab Emirates is an attractive hub of employment opportunity for expatriates, including teachers, given the tax free salary, glorious sunshine and countless education providers. However, as the cost of living in the UAE continues to rise and many education providers face ongoing battles to survive as operating costs increase, profits drop and competition for the best teachers intensifies. Education providers often find themselves hard pushed to recruit and retain high quality teachers.

All private sector employers, including education providers, are subject to Federal Law No. 8 of 1980 (the UAE Labour Law). Public entities, including publically owned education providers, may be subject to the UAE Labour Law or the appropriate civil service law (either Federal or Emirate level) and it is often unclear in practice which law applies.

Further, the Ministry of Education (MOE) controls licensing of education providers which means a number of private education providers are required to issue MOE employment contracts, yet other education providers are required to issue standard Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) employment contracts or employment contracts specific to free zones as applicable.  To compound the ambiguity, MOE contracts contain provisions that conflict with the UAE Labour Law. We would therefore advise that specialist employment lawyers, with experience in the education sector, are always consulted when drafting school employment contracts to ensure maximum protection is afforded to the employer against potential financial liabilities, particularly in relation to termination/ resignation provisions.

In this article we have set out some general employment considerations for education providers that are relevant to education providers established on shore and in the free zones, noting that in the free zones, additional issues may also need to be considered. This article does not deal with education establishments which are based in the DIFC or ADGM where the laws and procedures may vary further.

Contract Form

It is a well-known and common practice for education providers, including schools, to issue limited term employment contracts. A limited term contract is a fixed term contract that will automatically terminate at the end of term, unless terminated earlier by either party, or renewed by both parties.

Limited term contracts are useful when an education provider needs to engage teachers for specific lengths of time e.g. a whole academic year. It is preferable for education providers to insert the appropriate notice provisions (MOE contracts hold a pre requisite two month notice period) to ensure staff may not simply ‘up sticks’ and leave mid-way through an academic term.

Recruitment and retention

Given the recent dramatic increase in the number of schools and other education providers opening in the region, competition is fierce in terms of recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers. A key selling point of any education provider is being able to provide teacher continuity. Not only does this demonstrate to prospective parents that the provider has the desired skill set to teach potential children/students but it also shows that the provider values its teachers.

There are also number of tools that can be effectively used to recruit and retain staff, such as sign on bonuses, employee service reward programs and enhanced gratuity packages.

Non-Compete

Many education providers are drawn to the idea of inserting a post-termination restriction into employment contracts to deter its employees from jumping ship to a competing school. The key obstacle in respect of post-termination restrictions in the UAE is the ability to legally compel employees to comply with them via the Dubai Courts. In particular, the Dubai Courts (excluding the DIFC and ADGM) do not grant interim relief (such as injunctions) for the enforcement of post-termination restrictions. In practice, an education provider is unable to physically prevent (via a Court Order) an employee from acting in breach of a post-termination restriction.

Notwithstanding the above, a post-termination restriction remains an effective deterrent and an appropriately drafted post-termination restriction (e.g. one that is of a reasonable length) should always be considered.

Other considerations

In addition to the above, some other issues that should be considered by education providers are their internal policies to address child protection, professional development, data protection and working outside school hours/tutoring etc. In order to avoid any ambiguity, it is important that internal policies are well drafted and fit for purpose, taking into account the education provider’s specific requirements.

Conclusion

This article provides just a snapshot of the employment issues an education provider needs to consider when operating in the UAE. It is crucial to the successful management of an education provider that the above issues are appropriately considered and bespoke contracts and internal policies are drafted to suit their specific requirements.

For more information, please contact us on sectors@hadefpartners.com.