UAE’s Western-style weekend switch rattles Emiratis

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A general view of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates

The recent move by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to switch traditional working days at the end of the week to Western-style weekends has been met with criticism from Emirati social media users, activists and employees.

The controversial measure was highly frowned upon on Friday as the UAE’s officials had earlier announced that the Persian Gulf country would formally switch to a Saturday-Sunday weekend in the New Year.

The Western-style working week in the UAE will run from Monday to Friday. Government bodies and schools will operate four and a half-days a week, closing at 12 noon on Fridays for prayers.

Following the implementation of the move, Emirati workers and employees were left feeling a little mistreated upon realizing they would have to set their alarms for an early start on Friday.

The new arrangement was a major talking point on social media, with one Twitter user complaining, “It just feels so wrong.”

An unnamed social media user tweeted, “My body and mind have fully acclimatized to having Fridays off. I think today is going to be a long hard struggle.”

Rachel King, a 22-year-old British citizen who lives in Dubai, said, "I'd rather take Friday off. That is what we all know and love, having a Friday off and going to certain places that are open and we could do things. But now it is going to be Saturday."

The UAE made the surprise announcement about the weekend switch in December as it grappled with rising competition in international business from other Persian Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.

According to a poll by the human resources consultancy Mercer, only 23% out of 195 businesses were preparing to follow the four-and-a-half-day week, but more than half would switch to Saturday-Sunday weekends.

The Mercer poll found that nearly a third of companies were worried about the impact of being out of sync with other countries in the region.

“Luckily I have the same days off as my kids, but that’s not the case for my husband,” said Fati, who works in an international distribution company, asking not to give her full name. “He works for a multinational that hasn’t changed its schedule for the moment. I hope they will do it quickly, otherwise our family life will be ruined.”

The Emirati authorities claim that the new arrangement makes the UAE "the first nation in the world to introduce a national working week shorter than the global five-day week."

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