x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

'Move to Abu Dhabi or risk your housing allowance'

A new Government decree will require federal employees to live in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // All government employees must live in the emirate or risk losing their housing allowance, an executive council decision states.

Human-resources departments in the capital's government offices have received circulars but have not yet passed the details to employees.

The news was announced on Saturday by the state news agency, Wam, worrying many commuters.

An executive council official confirmed the decision, which affects all government bodies. Employees will have one year to comply.

"All those living in Dubai, Sharjah [and other emirates] will need to live in Abu Dhabi," said a council employee, who asked not to be named.

The council's office said HR departments had been briefed on the policy. But many remained confused. One government-owned company said they had received the circular, but have not yet informed staff.

"Internally, a lot of things need to be calculated," a representative said. "For example, those working from Dubai as the job requires them to, but their visa is in Abu Dhabi."

The company said it was unsure if it would be legal to cut employees' benefits after employment contracts had already been signed.

But Khaled Mustafa, a lawyer at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, said that as soon as the decree was released by the council, printed in the official gazette and then implemented, it would affect everyone, regardless of their contracts.

"If people want to object, claiming they did not sign up to this when they were appointed, they would have to go to court," he said. "Which is not worth it. It is better just to move."

A spokesman from the HR department at Al Ain Municipality said he was not sure if his office would be affected.

"We don't know if this affects those living in Al Ain as well, or if they would be allowed to commute from Abu Dhabi," he said. "But we are in contact with the Executive Council to get more clarification."

Hatim Al Nuaimi, vice president of HR at Etisalat, said he was unsure if his company would also be affected.

"We are semi-government," he said. "We don't know."

Wam said the decision would affect more than 10,000 employees who commute from different emirates.

It added that the decision would help improve worker productivity as commuting leads to fatigue. The decree also would enable employees to spend more time with their families and improve their social lives.

The one-year grace period was added so families would not be negatively affected, especially in regard to children in school.

While some employees welcomed the decision, many foresee problems.

"We put up with the commute just to make extra money by saving our housing allowance," said Hafiz Saeed, who lives in Dubai.

Maryam Hamad said she and her husband would have to leave their family if his job made him move.

"It might be that he has to commute anyway just to come and see me on the weekend," she said.

One HR manager, who is also affected, said the move would only benefit Abu Dhabi property owners. "They are the ones who will get more people coming to rent."

An Emirati said on Rams, an Emirati online forum, that unless rents were reduced, some employees would have to quit their jobs and seek work in the Northern Emirates.

"Those who come with their family will choose areas outside of Abu Dhabi island, like Bani Yas or Khalifa City. The congestion will remain outside the city in all cases."

Sultan Yaqoub, from Sharjah, said on Twitter that the decision was wise. "Some employees travel daily from Ras Al Khaimah and Khorfakan," he wrote.

Qassim Mohammed, director of labour relations at the Ministry of Labour, said the decision was unlikely to be passed to private companies.

osalem@thenational.ae