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Does the UAE private sector really need to play catch-up?

As the recent renewed focus on Emiratisation encourages a rethinking of the private sector, Kipp asks if it would not be just as fruitful to apply such scrutiny to the working conditions of the public sector.

February 19, 2013 5:40 by

Significant attention has been given to the national dialogue started by the Government Summit last week with regards to the country’s Emiratisation drive.

The Minister of Labour Saqr Ghobash has emerged as a prominent spokesperson on the issue and his views on the matter have been the centre of much press coverage. Ghobash has suggested unconventional means to bring the working culture of the private sector in line with that of the public. In particular, he has recommended all private sector jobs provide their employees with the two-day weekend mandatory in the public sector. In order to make up for lost time resulting from a two-day weekend, Ghobash suggests the adding of an additional working hour to the working day.

As reported in The National, the current estimates for public sector stands at 15 public holidays with 104 weekend days off a year while the private sector has 10 public holidays and 52 weekend days a year off. By these estimations, the public sector enjoys 57 more days of time off work than employees in the private sector.

“In the past couple of years we’ve found that things have become polarised. It looks like we built two separate job markets: one in the government for Emiratis, and one in the private sector for everyone else…By giving the private sector a two-day weekend we reduce the gap to just five days. And by extending the workday by one hour, the employer is only reducing three working hours a week, which only amounts to a few days a year,” said Ghobash.

Another factor to be considered is the higher salaries promised by government jobs. If the allure of working in the public sector is to be felt in the private sector, there needs to be an amendment to the difference in salaries.

“We have been told by employers in the private sector that salaries in the public sector are unrealistic. We accept this criticism. But we need economists to study this and see if it’s true and by what factor,” said Ghobash.

There’s no doubt private sector employees will welcome higher salaries and an increase in days off , but how will such a change affect business and the economy at large? Can businesses in the private sector afford to increase salaries and decrease working hours?  And if not, would increasing working hours and decreasing salaries in the public sector be an option worth considering?

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