The UAE government has recently announced a shift in the working week for the public sector (a significant component for the local economy) from Sunday to Thursday to Monday to Friday. Friday is of course the holy day in Islam and the move has been coupled with a shift to a 4 ½ day working week. These changes will commence as soon as 3 January 2022 after the New Year’s break. Public sector employees will be free to leave at noon to attend Friday Prayers at mosques which will now commence at 1.15 pm. To confirm the move all educational establishments (i.e. both public and private schools (who serve the expatriate communities) have been asked to align the school week. The purpose of the move is to align with the globe and support trade and business and to provide a greater work life balance to employees in the public sector in the UAE. A further motivation will be to secure the UAE’s position as the regional hub for multinationals across a number of sectors.

The immediate question is then what this means for the private sector in the UAE as this announcement will directly affect many of our clients with establishments in the territory. The Minister of Labour has confirmed that the private sector is welcome to adopt both the new working days and shorter week – but that this is not mandatory. As was remarked by the Minister “the private sector will do what is best for itself in a competitive market”. Our advice is as follows :

  • No further legislation is required for the private sector. The new Labour Law (which comes into force in February 2022) dropped Friday as the designated day off each week. It will be open to businesses to select what the normal working week will be within the usual confines of working time that apply to the private sector. The 48 house maximum working will apply together with overtime applicable to days other than the normal working hours and days as designated by each workplace.
  • It is likely (and indeed has been confirmed by many businesses) that the bulk of the private sector in the UAE will switch its working week following this announcement. Many businesses serve the public sector and to do otherwise would not make business sense. Key institutions will not be open on a Sunday and support will be required on Fridays. Further all businesses will have employees whose family routines have just been changed. Families will want to rest and play together and not operate on different timetables.
  • The addition of Friday as a working day will cause issues for Muslim staff. We would advise that as a minimum a two hour extended lunchbreak is provided for staff who want to attend the newly timed prayers. It is up to employers how they then deal with the additional hour within their flexible working policies. It is likely that many offices will allow flexible working or working from home to accommodate prayers or Friday afternoons at home.
  • The changes may cause some friction with serving regional markets. The remainder of the GCC remains on a Sunday to Thursday working week, including its biggest market the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Regional hubs will provide support and services to the GCC from the UAE. Equally several thousand staff make the commute to the KSA from the UAE on quite a frequent basis to support projects and clients. It is likely that many businesses will need to offer their GCC-wide teams with different core hours, or at least flexible hours, that will support those requirements. Rotas or other arrangements for Sunday working may be required.
  • Finally, any changes will need the consent of all staff. Contracts will need to be changed by addendum or re-issue. Consultation will be required on an individual basis.

Our understanding is that many businesses have reached decisions very quickly. The move is spreading into the private sector at the speed that the decisions can be taken after analysis. For many businesses the changes are necessary and self-evident. For those with a more complex mosaic of commitments to customers in the region some careful thought will be needed to the settlement over working time for employees to accommodate the needs of the business and the new pattern for family life.

We are already assisting clients with making changes to their employment contracts and policies. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require more information on the above.