x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Minister calls for flexibility in workplace over family

Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi, the UAE's minister of foreign trade, has called for the UAE to develop a more flexible work culture to assist men and women who wish to raise a family without sacrificing their career.

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade, wants a more flexible workplace culture to assist men and women who wish to raise a family without sacrificing their careers.

Sheikha Lubna, who has risen to the highest levels of business and government and was recently named the Arab world's most powerful woman by Forbesmagazine, said workers raising a family in the UAE faced challenges that could be addressed.

She said initiatives such as career breaks of a year or more, which are offered in other countries, were a good model for the UAE to follow.

"I'd believe in a system that can offer a man or a woman a chance so that they can take off [for] a couple of years so they can get back to work, or they can work part-time to help balance their time," she said.

"Whether an Emirati, an Arab, a Muslim, a westerner - and whether a chief executive or a vice president - women all face similar challenges and that's balancing between home and business and work.

"In a culture like this, the importance of children and the importance of family adds pressure on the decisions to be made."

At present, women in the UAE are allowed maternity leave of 45 days at varying rates of pay depending on the length of time they have been employed. Paternity leave, on the other hand, is not enshrined in the country's labour laws, although some companies allow a few days.

In April, the Federal National Council said it was reviewing laws in the public sector, following calls from Dr Amal al Qubaisi, a council member from Abu Dhabi, to raise maternity leave to six months.

Fatima al Ameri, a spokeswoman for the General Women's Union, said she supported Sheikha Lubna's comments.

"At the moment, it's tough [for a woman] to start a family. She needs to take a break to raise her family … because she'll divide herself in two. She'll not be productive at her work," Mrs al Ameri said.

"If a working woman intends to take a leave of one year off this would help her … if she has a talent and she's very clever, if she takes a year off it will not affect her career."

But Mrs al Ameri said a degree of understanding was required from UAE companies on the issue and towards that end her organisation had tried to educate management on how they could support workers who wished to take time off to raise a family.

"If the institute that she works in and the working environment that she belongs to understand her and they know her value to them, they'll help," she said.