x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Changing days off will help families

Last week's announcement that private sector days off might soon match those of the public sector was greeted with jubilation by many and downright fear by others.

Last week's announcement that private sector days off might soon match those of the public sector was greeted with jubilation by many and downright fear by others.

The notion of providing private sector employees with a minimum of two days off a week rather than the current one as well as added public holidays was presented as a tool in battling the anaemically low number of Emiratis in the private sector by making it more attractive.

With the disparity between private and public positions' days off as high as 57 days a year, this proposition addresses one of the key reasons Emiratis routinely shun the private industry.

Although a host of other motives exist - such as the difference in wages, benefits, working hours and the number of fellow Emirati colleagues - the discrepancy in time off is a non-starter for citizens looking for employment.

And if you ask Emiratis why days off are so necessary, the number-one answer will be family.

Coming from a highly collective culture where close family relations are the foundation of the society, time spent with relatives is an essential part of maintaining and building the fabric of Emirati life.

A relative of mine is a good illustration of an Emirati who works in the private sector at the cost of seeing his family. Although he enjoys the banking sector, he is torn by the fact that he only gets to see his children for the whole day once a week and he usually spends that day recovering from the six-day workweek.

His fatigue and constant questioning of the private sector job is compounded by the reality that his relatives in government positions get four to six weeks paid holiday as well as two days off each week.

The alignment of days off would mainly benefit expatriate communities and labourers, which has led some employers to voice their fear of decreased outputs.

These businessmen may wonder why the public sector does not get itself in line with the private industry rather than vice versa.

Even though the number of work hours would drastically increase in this scenario, so would levels of stress, anxiety, divorce rates and distant families. Having witnessed this tension in the United States because of minimal paid leave, I am glad that the UAE stipulates at least 30 calendar days a year.

Upon hearing this number, my Argentinian friend, whose country provides for fewer than half the days the Emirates does, remarked, "Now that makes working almost doable."

Of course, these numbers are relative, as I discovered when a friend educated in France remarked how little time off we received here. But it's hard to compete with the French when it comes to paid holiday, with some of their employees enjoying nine and a half weeks excluding roughly 10 national holidays.

But unlike the American, Argentinian or French models, I feel our public sector provides a good balance of work and play, which, if extended to the private sector, would benefit UAE citizens and residents alike.


Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US