The UAE announced its decision to change its current five-day working week to four and a half days from January 1. Under the new rule, Saturday and Sunday are full day holidays.
The United Arab Emirates will move to a four-and-a-half-day work week with Saturday-Sunday weekends beginning next year to better align its economy with global markets, but private companies will be free to choose their own work week .
The oil-producing Gulf state, the region’s commercial, trade and tourism hub, is currently a Friday-Saturday weekend. From January 1, however, the weekend will start from Friday afternoon, including for schools, a government circular said.
“Each company, the region they operate in and the one that best suits their business and provides the best service, can choose weekends for their employees,” Abdulrahman Al-Awar, Minister of Human Resources and Emirates, told Reuters.
Over the past year, the UAE has taken measures to make its economy more attractive to foreign investment and talent at a time of growing economic rivalry with Saudi Arabia.
Addressing any religious sensitivities in the Sunni Muslim-ruled country, where expatriates make up the majority of the population, the government said work on Friday would end at 12 noon before Muslim prayers, which would be unified throughout the United Arab Emirates on Friday.
It said the longer weekend would improve the work-life balance of employees and noted that many majority-Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Morocco, have Saturday-Sunday weekends.
The UAE said the move will “ensure smooth financial, trade and economic transactions with countries observing the Saturday-Sunday weekend, facilitate stronger international trade links and opportunities” for UAE-based and multinational firms.
Al-Awar said the change would affect state entities such as the central bank, which would inform commercial banks about new working hours, adding that UAE stock exchanges would also be more integrated with global markets.
“This change will enhance the integration of the banking sector in the UAE with the banking community at an international level … it will bridge the gap that existed in the past,” he said.
Mohamed Ali Yassin, Chief Strategy Officer, Al Dhabi Capital, said that being able to do simultaneous payment settlements with developed markets would benefit the financial sector and the tourism industry would also be a beneficiary.
“It could be a good experiment for other countries in the region,” he said.
In the other five Gulf Arab states and several Muslim-majority countries, Friday is a weekly holiday.
Monica Malik, an economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said she expects many private sector companies in the UAE to observe the Saturday-Sunday weekend, describing the move as a “very meaningful development” along with other recent reforms .
The UAE has liberalized laws regarding cohabitation, alcohol and personal status laws before marriage, in addition to the introduction of long-term visas to woo businesses and talent.