From private sector to public holidays: questions about the new UAE weekend answered

Government departments and schools will switch to a four-and-a-half-day week from January 1

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The new year will usher in the biggest overhaul of the UAE's working week for more than a decade.

On Tuesday, the government announced federal government departments would switch to a four-and-half-day week from January 1.

The Abu Dhabi and Dubai governments soon confirmed they would follow suit, along with schools in the emirates.

The changes mean employees will work full days Monday to Thursday, with a half day on Friday. Sharjah's public sector will introduce a four day Monday-Thursday working week and a three day weekend.

Mosques will hold Friday sermons and prayers at a fixed time of 1.15pm, with government employees having the option to work from home on this day.

The new weekend will be Saturday and Sunday, bringing the Emirates in line with much of the world.

Such a significant change has prompted a number of questions from The National readers, including the much-discussed: what will happen to the private sector?

Here, The National has the answers.

Why is the change being made?

UAE government sets out 4.5-day working week

UAE government sets out 4.5-day working week

The move is aimed at boosting the work-life balance of the UAE population and will help to "better align the Emirates with global markets, reflecting the country’s strategic status on the global economic map", a statement from the UAE Government Media Office said.

The new working week will support the UAE's global development in the decades to come.

"It will ensure smooth financial, trade and economic transactions with countries that follow a Saturday/Sunday weekend, facilitating stronger international business links and opportunities for thousands of UAE-based and multinational companies," the statement added.

"The new working week will also bring the UAE’s financial sector into closer alignment with global real-time trading and communications-based transactions such as those driving global stock markets, banks and financial institutions. The move is expected to boost not only trading opportunities but also add to the flexible, secure and enjoyable lifestyle the Emirates offers its citizens and residents."

What will happen in the private sector?

The decision to introduce new working hours for the public sector led many readers working in the private sector to ponder how they will be affected.

While the public sector and private sector are typically unified in terms of public holidays - such as the recent Golden Jubilee break - private firms are not obligated, in this case, to change their current working practices.

This was made clear by the Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation in an interview with The National on Tuesday.

Dr Abdulrahman Al Awar said the UAE's new labour laws give private sector employers the flexibility to choose what weekend days "help them to be more competitive and enhance their economic competitiveness and growth".

Mr Al Awar, however, believes private sector companies will adjust their weekends to Saturday and Sunday.

"They make their decisions based on what they feel will improve their competitive position and they will make wise decisions that suit their companies," he said.

His view was backed by industry experts, who predict the private sector will make the transition.

One practical reason is to allow parents to work on the same days their children attend school.

Moving in line with global working practices will also be of benefit to companies operating in the Emirates.

“This will align the UAE with global markets and make it easier for international corporations to do business,” said Nabil Alyousuf, chief executive officer of Dubai-based International Advisory Group.

“This will increase the number of days we do business with the rest of the world, which will boost trade.”

Why is there an extra public holiday?

Authorities announced on Tuesday that Sunday, January 2, will be a public holiday.

This is an additional day of leave to the list of public holidays for 2021/2022 released by the UAE Cabinet at the end of 2020.

The governments of both Dubai and Abu Dhabi announced the extra holiday as part of their decision to adopt the new weekend.

The decision will ease the transition to the new way of working and allow companies more time to adapt to the changes.

What will schools do?

Public and private schools will switch to the new four-and-half-day week, starting from Monday, January 3.

School leaders told The National they were in favour of the move and will work to develop new timetables, taking into consideration the half day on Friday to allow for Muslim pupils to attend sermons and prayers at 1.15pm throughout the year.

“We see the benefits in terms of staff, pupil, and parent well-being in having a more flexible working week in relation to four and a half days," said Alan Williamson, chief executive officer of Taaleem, one of the UAE's largest school groups.

He said school principals and senior leaders would be busy over the winter break ensuring schools opened on January 3 with the new arrangements in place.

"Our parents will expect us to move in line with the public and private sector and we will work tirelessly to ensure there is clear communication across our schools for staff, students, and parents,” he said.

When is it the weekend across the region?

The UAE's new Saturday-Sunday weekend will match common practices in much of the world, aiding the nation's efforts to cement itself as a global player.

Across the Mena region, the UAE will not be alone in taking a break on those two days.

While the Sunday-Thursday week holds sway in the rest of the Gulf, other countries to take a break on Saturday and Sunday include Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco.

Updated: December 10, 2021, 6:57 AM