UAE announces 4.5-day workweek, Saturday-Sunday weekend

In key change, the UAE says new working week will be 4.5 days, with Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend for government employees.

The new working week for government employees will come in to effect on January 1, 2022 [File: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg]

The United Arab Emirates announced all government entities will adopt a new work-week schedule consisting of four-and-a-half days with Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend.

The move, announced by state news agency WAM on Tuesday, will come into effect on January 1, 2022, making the working week more in line with Western schedules. The UAE currently has a Friday-Saturday weekend, which corresponds with other countries in the region.

The transition is “in line with the UAE’s vision to enhance its global competitiveness across economic and business sectors, and to keep pace with global developments”, the Abu Dhabi government media office said in a statement.

“The UAE is the first nation in the world to introduce a national working week shorter than the global five-day week,” WAM said.

“The extended weekend comes as part of the UAE government’s efforts to boost work-life balance and enhance social wellbeing, while increasing performance to advance the UAE’s economic competitiveness,” the WAM report said.

Under the new model, employees will have to complete an eight-hour workday from Monday to Thursday but are only expected to work only for 4.5 hours on Friday.

Government employees will also be allowed to choose “flexible work or work-from-home options” on Fridays.

Meanwhile, Friday sermons and prayers will be held at 1:15pm.

In predominantly Muslim countries, Friday is usually considered the holiest day of the week. In some of the neighbouring countries, shops and vendors are prohibited from opening before Friday prayers end.

While becoming the only Gulf country not to have a Friday-Saturday weekend, the resource-rich and ambitious UAE now comes into line with the non-Arab world.

Local media reports said more details were expected to emerge in the following days.

‘Boost productivity’

Scott Livermore, chief economist at Oxford Economics Middle East, an advisory firm, said the weekend alignment with Europe and Asia “will help internationally orientated business that are an important pillar of the economy and could attract investment”.

At the same time, “a shorter working week does present some challenges in terms of managing output costs, although there is some evidence that a shorter working week can boost productivity of the workforce”, he added.

The shift likely will see the private industry and schools follow suit, as they did in 2006 when the week changed from Saturday to Wednesday – a workweek followed in some Muslim-majority countries, such as Iran and Afghanistan.

The UAE has in the past year taken measures to make its economy more attractive to foreign investment and talent, including introducing longer-term visas. It has also revised laws regarding cohabitation before marriage, alcohol and personal status laws.

The changed week was generally welcomed on social media, where the subject was trending and the official announcements were widely retweeted.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies