The United Arab Emirates is slashing its official working week to four-and-a-half days and moving its weekend to Saturday and Sunday in a major shift aimed at improving competitiveness.

The decision, which is to take effect next month, makes the Gulf Arab federation one of the few countries in the Middle East to operate on Western hours instead of on a Sunday through Thursday week. (Reuters Archive)

The United Arab Emirates has announced the country will shift to a working week of four and half days with a Saturday-Sunday weekend from the start of next year.

The “national working week” is mandatory for government bodies from January 1 and bucks the regional norm of a full day off on Friday for Muslim prayers, a government circular said on Tuesday.

Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation Abdulrahman al Awar told Reuters private companies will be free to choose their own working week.

Under the new timetable, the public-sector weekend starts at noon on Fridays and ends on Sunday.

The move is intended to “better align the UAE with global markets”, said state news agency WAM, calling the new working week the shortest in the world.

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Lining up with Western markets

The Western-style weekend, rumoured for years, was announced less than a week after the former British protectorate celebrated the 50th anniversary of its formation.

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.

The government said the longer weekend would improve employees’ work-life balance and noted that several majority-Muslim nations, such as Indonesia and Morocco, have Saturday-Sunday weekends.

The UAE said the move would “ensure smooth financial, trade and economic transactions with countries that follow a Saturday-Sunday weekend, facilitating stronger international business links and opportunities” for UAE-based and multinational firms.

‘Eliminate the gap’

The change will impact state entities like the central bank, which would communicate details about the new working hours to commercial banks, said Abdulrahman al Awar, 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 internationally… it will eliminate the gap that existed in the past,” he said.

The government shift likely will see private industry and schools follow suit, as they did in 2006, when the week changed from Saturday to Wednesday.

The news was generally welcomed on social media, where the subject was trending and the official WAM tweets were widely retweeted.

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