2021 was certainly a year of change for the UAE with a raft of new legislation announced in December, the announcement of a new labour law and confirmation, after much rumour, that the UAE would change its working week. Effective 1 January 2022, the new working week for public sector employees is Monday to Friday, with Friday being a half day.
In Islam, Friday is the day of prayer and therefore, across the region, the traditional working week is Sunday to Thursday. This means that working patterns are out of sync with the rest of the world observing a Monday to Friday working week.
That has now changed in the UAE, which has become the first country in the Gulf to officially change its working week to align itself with the rest of the world and whilst the changes officially only apply to the public sector, it is inevitable that the private sector will have to follow suit.
Whilst there has been no official announcement from the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratisation in relation to this change, the Minister has encouraged the private sector to adopt similar working patterns. However, he went on to say that private sector employers were not obliged to follow the four and a half working day week. It is therefore likely that private sector employers will adopt a full five-day working week, with time off for prayer on Fridays (as other countries in the Middle East currently observe). The new UAE labour law, which is due to enter into force from 2 February 2022, does not provide specific days for ‘rest’ (whereas under the current law Friday is a dedicated ‘rest’ day) and therefore has the necessary flexibility to allow for this change to the working week.
At the time of writing, it appears most private sector employers have either moved or are planning to move (over the next couple of weeks) to the new Monday to Friday working week, working a fully five-day week, but with some flexibility for practising Muslims who wish to pray on Fridays. What is certain, is that this is a seismic change for the UAE and will certainly be welcomed by businesses as it aligns them to the rest of the world.