In 2002, the workforce was estimated at 1.6 million. However, around 74% of the total labor force is made up of foreign nationals, with foreigners accounting for 98% of the private labor force. In 2001, the service sector provided jobs for 78% of the workforce, with industry amounting to 15%, and agriculture 7%.
The UAE leans heavily on skilled labor, technology, and management abilities provided by foreigners. Non-UAE Arabs are employed at all economic levels, including the government bureaucracy and civil service. Manual labor is largely performed by Pakistanis and Iranians, while many Indians are to be found in clerical positions. Most domestic servants are women from Sri Lanka or the Philippines. There is a high proportion of Europeans at management levels. Until recently, the large influx of immigrants was insufficient to cope with labor needs. A 1984 decree guarantees UAE nationals priority in hiring, in order to reduce dependence on expatriates.
Unionization is prohibited by law. Collective bargaining provisions do not exist, and strikes are strictly prohibited in the public sector. Rather, all labor contracts are reviewed by the Ministry of Labor to ensure that the pay will satisfy the employee's basic needs and secure a means of living.
There is no minimum wage. A standard workweek of eight hours per day, six days per week and minimum occupational health and safety requirements are not effectively enforced. Foreign workers are especially vulnerable to abuse. Widespread and credible reports indicate that foreign workers have had their passports confiscated, pay withheld, and are forced to work excessively long days far beyond the statutory maximum. Women working as domestic servants have also reported being sexually and physically abused. Foreign workers have little redress for their grievances. UAE administrative bodies virtually never rule against a UAE employer, and UAE employers can prevent a foreign worker from switching to another employer.