x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Work teaches teenagers vital lessons, minister says

FNC hears defence of new rules allowing jobs for under-18s.

ABU DHABI // Having a job is essential for young people to learn to respect money and understand the value of work, the Minister of Labour argued yesterday.

Saqr Ghobash was making a passionate defence of laws that allow teenagers to work. Stringent requirements and oversight would ensure that teenagers were not exploited, he told the final session of the FNC yesterday.

New labour regulations allow teenagers aged 15 to 18 to be employed if they have work permits, which cost Dh500 and must be renewed annually. They must have the permission of a guardian. The regulations ban young people from working in jobs classified as dangerous and allow them to work a maximum of six hours a day, not between 8pm and 6am.

"There are strict requirements and conditions," Mr Ghobash said. "The goal from this decision is to open a door that was closed, because we worry that closing it is not the best solution."

The minister said regulating the system was ideal, especially since many teenagers had been workingin an unregulated environment.

But Sultan al Suwaidi, an FNC member from Dubai, said there was no reason forteenagers to work. UAE nationals had high incomes and the country offered free education, he said.

“What is the reason to allow my children to leave education and to go to work?” he said.

There are 250,000 students in the UAE, and Mr al Suwaidi said the country needed to better understand how many of them would leave the educational system if they were allowed to work.

Mr al Suwaidi said allowing expatriate teenagers to work would add to the population imbalance, since it would increase the 5.5 million-strong expatriate workforce. Government statistics put the total Emirati population at just under 900,000.

Mr al Suwaidi said allowing expatriate teenagers to work could lead them to demand more rights if they remained in the workforce afterwards as adults.

But Mr Ghobash said work experience was essential for youth development, and would help young people get into better universities. “It contributes to building up their character, their self-reliance and knowledge of the work environment,” he said.

“If they work during the summer, for instance, they learn to save, and learn the value of money and how to spend it. It is completely different from getting money without effort.”

He said allowing students to have part-time jobs would help them make better career choices.