View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Monday, April 16, 2007

UAE’s Changing Work Culture

As the UAE government is undertaking a refinement of its employment laws, aimed at protecting workers from exploitation, the Gulf News is currently taking an in depth look at ‘Labour in the UAE’.

One of the features the Gulf News is examining is the issue of split and straight work shifts.

As in many hot countries, the UAE has traditionally practiced the afternoon siesta, involving the closing down of businesses while workers go home to dine and sleep before returning and working into the evening.

There are businesses, especially in the UAE’s smaller cities and towns where workers can get home quickly, who still favour the split shift. These are often businesses that involve lots of customer contact and who find if their customers are taking a siesta, then they may as well close their doors.

There appears to be a move towards the straight or continuous shift approach in the UAE. Such businesses who have changed to this style argue that:

1. It saves on time as it cuts down on traveling and the procedures for closing and opening the business.

2. It creates greater worker efficiency as some say that workers often return to work at 5.00pm feeling groggy and take a good 30 minutes or more to get back into work mode.

3. It enables workers to finish at 6.00pm and do other things with their evenings.

4. It is better for business because of their availability throughout the day.

A journalist who visited Fujairah to assess its changing work culture said in his article, ‘Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah at 2’, Gulf News, 15 April 2007:

“At two in the afternoon there is less energy in the city of Fujairah, with the traffic flow signaling the end of a working day for some, and the end of the half day for others.”

“Most cafes and entertainment facilities are empty, but a noticeable number of cars are parked around restaurants and other fast food outlets.”

“School buses are seen dropping off pupils and there are visibly less taxis on the streets. At the usually bustling Al Muhait Road, very few people are seen around as rows of closed-up shops line up on both sides of the tracks.”

“On a number of construction sites, a mixed picture develops as some labourers can be seen taking a nap while others toil in the afternoon heat.”

“A few tourists can be spotted braving the sun as they walk around the city, and at the sparsely populated beaches, some use the time on their hands to catch some sea, while others fly a kite.”

It is interesting to observe some UAE businesses maintaining both systems, presumably allowing its employees to decide on their style of work practice.

Geoff Pound

Image: Construction workers in the UAE.