x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Saudi Arabia considers shifting its weekend

Saudi Arabia rethinks whether having its weekend halfway into the rest of the world's working week is a good idea.

Saudi Arabia has restarted talks on whether the weekend should begin on Fridays, to fall in line with the working week of most other Gulf countries and boost international business.

The kingdom currently takes a Thursday-Friday weekend, the same as Yemen and Oman. Most Gulf states have moved their weekend to Friday-Saturday so they can trade more easily with the rest of the world, much of which operates a Saturday-Sunday weekend.

The Shura Council will begin discussions and take a vote on whether a Friday-Saturday weekend would be more efficient, the daily Arab News newspaper reported on Saturday.

"If it does change, it'll bring obvious benefits to the private sector, which now accounts for close to 50 per cent of the economy of Saudi Arabia," said John Sfakianakis, the chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi. "It'll link Saudi Arabia with the rest of the world, and they'll only lose one day instead of losing two days.

"This is the largest stock market in the Middle East and it's operating on a Saturday-Wednesday basis," he said. "That's not very efficient for making international investors inclined to invest in Saudi Arabia."

Decisions made by the Shura Council are not binding, but would be an important barometer of support for an eventual change of weekend.

Any change of weekend would also require the support of the kingdom's business owners, according to a spokesman for the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"So long as they have the support [and can show] that society needs it, the businesses need it … supported by evidence of why the public needs it, then the Council of Saudi Chambers will study it and officially it will pass to the minister of trade and industry," the spokesman said.

This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has proposed moving its weekend, but efforts in the past have run into opposition for religious reasons.

However, some workers at Saudi companies say they work during the weekend anyway, simply to be able to conduct normal business with the rest of the world.