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The UAE is adopting a 4.5-day workweek and a Saturday-Sunday weekend

The United Arab Emirates is changing its workweek to have half days on Fridays and a Saturday-Sunday weekend. Here, the country's emirate of Dubai and its Burj Khalifa skyscraper are photographed from a helicopter on July 8, 2020.
Karim Sahib
/
AFP via Getty Images
The United Arab Emirates is changing its workweek to have half days on Fridays and a Saturday-Sunday weekend. Here, the country's emirate of Dubai and its Burj Khalifa skyscraper are photographed from a helicopter on July 8, 2020.

The United Arab Emirates just announced some big changes to its work schedule.

The Gulf nation is transitioning to a 4.5-day workweek, with weekends to consist of Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday.

That's significant for two reasons: It likely makes the UAE the first nation to formalize a workweek shorter than five days, and it also brings the country more in line with Western schedules. Up until now, the UAE has had a Friday-Saturday weekend, which is the standard in many predominantly Muslim countries.

"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," said state news agency WAM, which announced the move on Tuesday.

The changes apply to federal government entities and will take effect on Jan. 1. After that point, Monday through Thursday workdays will run from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Friday hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Friday sermons and prayers will be held starting at 1:15 p.m., and WAM said government employees can make arrangements to work from home on Fridays as well as "arrange their working hours on a flexi-time basis."

Schools and private employers may follow suit

The Associated Press reports that private industry will likely follow the government's lead, noting it did so in 2006 when the Saturday-Wednesday workweek changed.

Dubai's education authorities said in a Tuesday tweet that "the private education sector in Dubai will be open in line with the recent UAE Government decision on the working week."

The English-language Khaleej Times reported on Wednesday that schools and universities will follow the new workweek too, with the country's Education Ministry to announce new school timings.

The government says there will be economic and lifestyle benefits

The UAE is the first country in the world to introduce a national workweek shorter than the global five-day week, WAM adds. And Al Jazeera notes that the UAE will become the only Gulf country not to have a Friday-Saturday weekend.

WAM said that the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources proposed the new workweek after "comprehensive benchmarking and feasibility studies" focused on its potential impact on the economy, social and family ties and people's overall well-being.

WAM explains that the move will facilitate financial and trade transactions with countries that follow a Saturday-Sunday weekend, in turn creating stronger business links and opportunities for UAE-based and multinational companies.

And, WAM added, the new workweek is poised to bring the UAE's financial sector into closer alignment with the global real-time trading and communications transactions that drive things such as stock markets, banks and financial institutions.

"The move is expected to boost not only trading opportunities but also add to the flexible, secure and enjoyable lifestyle the UAE offers to its citizens and residents," it concludes.

Abdulrahman Al Awar, the UAE's minister of human resources and emiratisation, told CNBC that the change comes in the context of several reforms aimed at "improving the competitive advantages of the UAE."

Some of those measures from the past year include introducing longer-term visas, loosening regulations on alcohol consumption, decriminalizing the cohabitation of unmarried couples and relaxing punishments for drug offenses.


This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.