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As of February 1, DIFC-registered companies can enroll into the scheme and begin making contributions for end of service benefits for employees. Image Credit: Stock photo

Dubai: The DIFC Employee Workplace Savings (DEWS) scheme, the progressive end-of-service benefits (EoSB) scheme for employees working in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), went live on February 1.

Pioneered by the DIFC, the leading international financial hub in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, DEWS is a first-of-its-kind initiative in the United Arab Emirates and is expected to set a new standard for management of end of service liability in the region.

What does it mean?

Gratuity has been the only form of end-of-service benefits employees take home in the UAE before DEWS. DIFC's initiative is different from the current gratuity scheme because it combines employer-contributed 'gratuity' with voluntary savings by employees and profitable investment of this combined fund.

This means that in addition to a contribution by the employer (based on basic wage and number of years of employment of each employee), the employee can choose to save as well. The total amount is then invested, which can then be moved to diverse portfolios depending on the risk appetite of the employee. 

The introduction of DEWS will restructure the current defined employee benefit scheme into a funded and professionally managed, defined contribution savings plan with a voluntary savings component.

So what happens to my gratuity until now?

According to information on the DIFC website, an employer can choose to put the accrued gratuity benefit of employees up to February 1 in the new scheme.

However, while this transfer does not require employee consent, pay out at the end of employment will be determined based on the agreements made with the employee. The company may be liable to pay end-of-service benefits accrued before commencement of the DEWS scheme on termination based on various terms and conditions.

Any end-of-service benefits not put in the scheme by the employer (before commencement of DEWS) is to be paid out on termination of employment within two weeks. However, an employee can choose to leave the funds already accrued in his/her DEWS scheme active in investments even after leaving the firm.

Dates and deadlines

As of February 1, DIFC-registered companies can enroll into the scheme and begin making contributions. The enrolment period for organisations to transition to the DEWS scheme has been extended to March 31, and employers will have until April 21 to make their first contribution, covering February and March payroll.

Following this, employers will be required to make contribution payments before the 21st of each month. The contribution is a percentage of basic salary paid. The minimum contribution for employees with less than five years of service is 5.83 per cent of the basic salary. The minimum contribution for employees with more than five years of service is 8.33 per cent of the basic salary. 

Arif Amiri, Chief Executive Officer, DIFC Authority, commented: “The DIFC Employee Workplace Savings Scheme highlights our commitment to providing our 24,000 professionals with the best protection and returns at the end of their service or retirement. As one of our trusted partners, Zurich Workplace Solutions have demonstrated their exceptional capabilities and we are pleased to be working with them to implement the new DEWS scheme.”

Employee online accounts

Once employers have enrolled through the platform, employees within the organisation will be granted access to their online account, which will serve as a one stop shop for all DEWS related activities. He or she can choose different investment portfolios, set up own savings etc. through this account. 

Companies involved in the process

DIFC appointed Zurich in the Middle East and it’s DIFC-based entity Zurich Workplace Solutions (ZWS) to the role of Plan Administrator, Equiom as the Master Trustee and Mercer as the Investment Adviser.

As Plan Administrator, ZWS is responsible for the day-to-day management of the scheme including providing an online portal for employers and employees, employer and employee enrolment, member account and contribution management, facilitating the investment process and enabling withdrawals.

Reena Vivek, Senior Executive Officer at Zurich Workplace Solutions, said: “This is a new era for DIFC employers and employees, with DEWS setting the benchmark for other free zones and commercial areas in the UAE and the greater Middle East. We have made it our mission to ensure that the onboarding process for organisations and professionals becoming a part of the DEWS ecosystem is a seamless experience. With this in mind, ZWS has been engaging with the community through a number of channels to prepare participants for new scheme in the lead up to the launch.”

Smooth transition

ZWS has been running face-to-face employer forums, setting up on-site information booths for employees, providing guides and resources via a dedicated website and undertaking “house calls” to organisations in the DIFC to facilitate a smooth transition. Moving forward, a dedicated ZWS support team will be available for guidance, along with a series of tutorials and webinars offering step-by-step instructions.

Keeping with the theme of simpler and more convenient onboarding, ZWS have partnered with market leading UK based technology provider, Smart Pension Limited, to deliver an easy to use digital fulfilment platform for DEWS. 

A recent report released by Zurich Middle East and Insight Discovery revealed that in 2019, 75 per cent of companies did not “ring fence” their EoSB liabilities, putting undue pressure on their business and creating greater uncertainty around pay-outs for employees.

By enrolling into DEWS, over 2300 employers in DIFC will gain access to a structured, professionally managed plan which minimises these business risks. Additionally, they will be able to attract the best local and international talent and have greater clarity around EoSB liabilities.

The benefits to the 24,000 employees working at the DIFC is equally compelling. They will receive greater security and visibility over their EoSB entitlements, have the option to make contributions towards their savings goals, and be able to select an investment profile that aligns with their attitude to risk.

*Information from press release and the official DIFC website. Please contact your employer directly for any queries or changes.