As you may have seen in the news, when it comes to the rollout of the vaccine Israel is leading the world. Less well publicised, but tracked much more closely by businesses, is the UAE which is also doing very well. Business magazine Quartz reports there are three countries which have pulled far ahead of the rest of the world in distributing Covid-19 vaccines, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. As a region the Gulf appears to be turning a corner in this pandemic, market outlook for 2021 appears to be more optimistic and employers are looking to review contracts of employment and policies accordingly. More on that in a moment. The UAE has adopted a different approach to the UK, a policy aimed at the whole community. Gulf News reports how the 'UAE has expanded its National Vaccine Programme to include people aged 16 and above' and how the roll out is going well.
One of our lawyers in the region, Luke Tapp, comments on this for Outlaw. He says he detects more optimism among general counsel and businesses leaders who can now see opportunities ahead, albeit there are concerns about new strains of Covid-19 spreading internationally and the impact of the pandemic on business travel. He says it's important for HR to continue to be proactive, mindful and practical in relation to their workforce management. So what does that mean in practice? To discuss that, Luke joined me by video-link from Dubai. I put it to him that the vaccine rollout appears to be going well:
Luke Tapp: “Yes, thanks Joe. It's going really well. We've got two vaccines in circulation at the moment in the UAE and they've been in circulation for approximately one month now, maybe just longer than that. The two vaccines, one is the Pfizer vaccine and the other one is the Sinopharm vaccine which is a Chinese vaccine that was developed in collaboration with the authorities in the UAE. The rollout has been very quick, very fast, very efficient and I think just under two million people have received a vaccination already, so just under 20% of residents and nationals of the UAE have received the vaccine. So it is it is moving forward in a really good rate."
Joe Glavina: "That's good to hear Luke. I imagine, despite the good news about the vaccine, business travel has been affected, like everywhere else?
Luke Tapp: "Yes business travel, of course, has been disrupted in the UAE and Dubai is such a hub of activity for international travel, whether its employees coming to visit colleagues and clients in the UAE or whether it's using the UAE as a launching pad to go to other jurisdictions in the Middle East or further afield to visit colleagues and clients. The UAE really does accommodate a lot of that transport and I think, obviously, it's been hit by the COVID pandemic generally. I would say in the last month or two, international travel has picked up and one of the most popular routes during December was the London-Dubai route for travel. So there have been some small green shoots of recovery in that regard but I think the position at the moment very much is to proceed with caution and many of our clients are still managing travel policies in a cautious way, and certainly the travel is much less than it would have been 12 to 18 months ago."
Joe Glavina: "In your article, Luke, you've flagged an issue around changing employees' terms and conditions, pay cuts and so on. What's your point on that?"
Luke Tapp: "I think now is a good time for clients to consider what areas of terms and conditions they need to review, they need to update, and it's not just salary changes, you know, we have seen a lot of that of course, changes to the way salary is calculated, changes to the way salary is paid has been something that clients have been managing proactively over the past 12 months, but there are other policies and other terms that clients are changing at the moment and reviewing. So things like travel, things like business development spend, items like where people work from. So all aspects of how employees do their work, where they do their work from and how their performance is monitored. All of those aspects are being reviewed by clients at the moment in the UAE particularly. So what we recommend to clients is to begin by identifying what the objective is, how has the market changed, how has your client base changed, and then work backwards and work out how to then create the most effective workforce to complement the new economy and the new business landscape. When you've identified that then, of course, it's about consultation, it's about discussing those objectives, those challenges, with employees and ultimately agreeing the way forward. Under the UAE labour law, under the DIFC employment law and the ADGM employment law, fundamental terms of employment should not be changed unilaterally - clients do need to obtain the consent and the agreement of their employees when implementing changes to fundamental terms of employment. So we always recommend that clients make sure they get their employees and their workforce engaged, in agreement, and aligned with the new strategies and the new directions and then, of course, ensure they get the employees' are in agreement with the new terms of employment."
We referred earlier to Luke's article which deals with many of the issues he covered in that interview. It is called 'Navigating UAE employment risks in a post-Coved world' and you can find it on the Outlaw website.