Dubai: Students on university sponsorship can now legally work part-time upon receiving a permit from the Ministry of Labour under a new decree issued as part of the UAE Labour Law.
The new part-time work permit regulation went into effect this year and is aimed at protecting student rights to stop employers exploiting them, said a ministry official.
It was previously illegal for students above the age of 18 on university sponsorship to take up work unless they transferred their sponsorship to their employer, added the official.
The new part-time work permit decree was issued along with the teenage work permit that allows those aged 15 to 18 to take up work within stringent guidelines.
Nevertheless, before the introduction of the permit some students on university and parental/guardian sponsorship still took up part-time work through temporary promotional jobs that paid cash.
"There are a large number of students who come from abroad to study here and want to earn a living," said Ali Ahmad, a former student victim of employer exploitation. "They think the UAE is like the West where they can earn extra money, but once they see the harsh reality they resort to working illegally and get ripped off."
Ahmad himself is owed almost Dh20,000 for three months part-time work in a free zone advertising agency.
"Lots of students work and sign temporary fraudulent contracts without realising they are being cheated because it's a fake document," he said.
However, university officials believe that the introduction of this new decree will put employers at ease, increasing part-time work opportunities on offer for students.
"It used to be that previously employers were reluctant to formally approach students or universities about part-time employment because of the legal issues," said Fouad Jasem, Manager of career development services, Middlesex University Dubai. "After the announcement of the new decree the number of employers approaching us has increased significantly."
Jasem added the Middlesex careers department now posts up to three part-time jobs daily as opposed to previous sporadic internship postings. Yet, Career Services officer at the Canadian University of Dubai, Mary Allison, believes the new decree will increase student opportunities for paid internships.
"Previously a lot of companies were willing to pay students for their internships but because they were on the university's visa it became illegal for them to do so," she said.
It would seem the new decree is just in time as Dubai Women's College (DWC) reports unprecedented student interest for part-time work by its nearly 2,500 strong Emirati student body.
"I would say approximately 15 per cent of our students definitely want to take up part-time employment," said Rabiaa Bekhazi, Careers supervisor, DWC. "This is the first year we've seen increasing student demand for part-time jobs; which indicates a level of maturity in their thinking, as work to be something they now expect to move towards."
Although students across the country are eager to earn their keep, Bekhazi believes companies in the UAE may take longer to come to terms with a new concept.
"The student demand is evident but we need a market answer, where companies prepare tailored packages and roles, from an HR perspective, for this character of workers," she said. "A lot of work needs to go into companies preparing to accept part-time student workers as they differ greatly from mature workers."
Even though it is too early to gage employer response, students are no doubt pleased with the introduction of the new decree.
"It is still going on, those employers that don't pay or lie about their contracts and this might not change, but at least now students are protected by the government," said Sany Jab, a student at the SAE Institute Dubai.
The part-time work permit applies to four categories of persons:
1. Resident workers in full-time employment holding a valid labour card
2. Co-dependent sponsored residents i.e: housewives on their husband's sponsorship
3. Residents aged 18 and above
Those issued with a part-time work permit are not limited to the number of part-time jobs they can take up.
The government can issue a part-time work permit despite the objection of a full-time employer and an individual's residency status if there is a labour case raised at the courts through the labour ministry.