x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Only 1 in 10 UAE government departments heed nursery requirement

Just one in ten government departments have set up office nurseries - despite a 2006 federal cabinet decision making the facilities compulsory.

 The Ministry of Social Affairs nursery in Al Qusais. The facility has about 70 children and operates at two sites. Christopher Pike / The National
The Ministry of Social Affairs nursery in Al Qusais. The facility has about 70 children and operates at two sites. Christopher Pike / The National

DUBAI // Only one in ten government departments have set up office nurseries despite a cabinet ruling requiring most of them to do so.

In 2006 the federal cabinet ordered all federal and local government departments with more than 50 female Emirati staff, or where female staff had more than 20 children, to offer on-site nurseries.

The Ministry of Social Affairs estimates that the ruling applies to 80 per cent of government bodies, but only 37 out of 320 have complied.

“Female employees should demand their right to have a nursery at the workplace. I call on all women to push for this right,” said Mooza Al Shoomi, head of the child department at the ministry, which is responsible for implementing the decision.

She called on women to urge “government institutions to create nurseries at work as ordered by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid”.

The child department hopes that a new nursery law to be debated by the Federal National Council will include a requirement for government bodies to provide nurseries and prompt greater action than the 2006 cabinet order.

“We will work to include office nurseries in the law to emphasise their importance,” said Mrs Al Shoomi. “The law is stronger than the federal decision.”

Many new mothers with government jobs are required to return to work when their children are as young as six weeks old, prompting many to resign or take long-term leave.

The 2006 decision was aimed at addressing this problem, but the response has been slow.

A study by the ministry of 120 government bodies found nine factors to blame for the lack of action.

The most common reason for not establishing a nursery was lack of space, given by 57 per cent. The second most common reason was that the department’s building did not meet health and safety standards for a nursery.

Other reasons included lack of budget and not enough female employees.

“Although these are valid reasons they are not strong enough for not implementing the rule,” said Mrs Al Shoomi. “There are solutions, such as having a joint nursery for entities which are close by and planning ahead to accommodate the nursery.”

She said a few government bodies – about 2 per cent – rejected the very idea of setting up a nursery at the workplace.

“Some of the government entities do not even understand the concept of an office nursery. I have got some directors telling me that they do not want the noise of children at their workplace.”

Mrs Al Shoomi said perceptions were changing and more departments were beginning to understand that by creating nurseries they could increase productivity.

New mothers lucky enough to work at an office that has followed the cabinet’s advice say the development has been life changing.

“I did not need to take unpaid leave for my baby and my absences reduced significantly,” said Nadia Al Rais, a government employee who takes her 18-month-old daughter to the office nursery.

Mrs Al Rais returned to work 45 days after giving birth, but had peace of mind because she could check on her child several times a day.

Nora Al Medawi, the principal at the Ministry of Social Affairs’ nursery, said such facilities were now an important consideration for many jobseekers.

“The office nursery is an important element for many female workers. For me personally it is one of the most important consideration in taking on a new job.”

wissa@thenational.ae