The United Arab Emirates will move its weekend to Saturday and Sunday for state employees, breaking ranks with the rest of the Gulf as it accelerates a push to draw in international investment and business.
The UAE — which has been the Middle East’s commercial capital for more than a decade and has been facing growing regional competition from Saudi Arabia — is seeking to reposition itself as a global hub for business.
Like other Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, it currently has a Sunday-to-Thursday working week. The changes, which the government said will allow the UAE to align more closely with global markets, will come into effect Jan. 1 and apply to the public sector and schools. There will be a 4 1/2-day working week with Friday — a holy day in Islam — being a half day, the federal government said in a statement.
The government didn’t say whether the private sector would have to adopt the new 4 1/2-day week, with the door being left open for private companies to decide how to allocate resources. This could set companies up for a potentially tricky juggle between regional and global markets at a time when working practices worldwide have been transformed by the pandemic.
“The private sector will have flexibility to decide the weekend,” Abdulrahman Al Awar, director-general of the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources, told Asharq TV. Companies can retain their flexibility as long as they abide by the labour law, he said. The country’s labor law allocates a maximum of 48 hours per working week and a minimum of one day off per week.
All private schools in Dubai will move to the new weekend, the KHDA schools authority in Dubai said in a tweet on Tuesday adding it is “working closely with our community to ensure a smooth transition.”
Regional competition from neighbouring Saudi Arabia is rising as the oil-producing heavyweight engages in an unprecedented drive to attract overseas investment and diversify its economy. Throughout the pandemic, the UAE has sped up changes aimed at attracting foreign talent as well as strengthening trade ties beyond the Middle East, especially in Asia and Africa.
The changes “will increase the number of days we do business with the rest of the world, which will boost trade,” said Nabil Alyousuf, chief executive officer of Dubai-based International Advisory Group.
Other countries across the region may follow suit before long. In 2006, the UAE became the first in the Gulf to move its weekend from Thursday and Friday to Friday and Saturday. It was followed by Saudi Arabia in 2013 and then much of the Gulf.