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29 May 2023

Should private and public sectors get equal leave?

Two GCC countries have already taken steps aimed at bringing the private sector holidays at par with the public sector holidays. (FILE)

By Shuchita Kapur

Every public holiday in the country tends to rake up the issue of disparity between public and private sector holidays, with some employees in the private sector very vocal about their feelings of working on days when other are off.

Two GCC countries have already taken steps aimed at bringing the private sector holidays at par with the public sector holidays, but experts that Emirates 24|7 spoke with are split in their opinion on whether such a move can be adopted in the UAE, and if lesser holidays amount to unfair treatment of the private sector employees. 

“In the interest of harmony and unity in the work place and socially, public holidays should be defined where possible, and the gap between days off for private and public sector employees should be reduced,” urges Hasnain Qazi, Middle East Business Manager at Huxley Associates, a recruitment consultancy.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of being fair or unfair with the employees. The public sector often has the ‘luxury’ of giving more holidays but one should take into account the question of productivity, which is very important in the private sector,” said Konstantina Sakellariou, Partner, Marketing & Operations Director at Stanton Chase, an executive search engine.

“Also, one should point out that the private sector often offers several additional allowances or opportunities to the employees – many times not offered in the public sector, while some companies may give days off even on days that are not official holidays for the UAE but are considered to be important (for instance, give the day off for Christmas),” she added.

“The disparity between public and private sector holidays has many practical issues attached to it,” argues Qazi.

“Employees in the private sector feel emotionally and psychologically that they should not be working on days when others are off work. This does not increase productivity of the employees in the private sector.

“These feelings can lead to many things. Firstly, it causes resentment towards the people working in the public sector. Secondly, all around the developed world, public holidays are very defined. For example, bank holidays in England are always attached to the weekend and the private sector knows well in advance the number of holidays they are getting,” he said.

In the UAE, however, Qazi said that this may not always be the case. “In the UAE, people come to know of the holidays only a few days in advance and this does not help families plan in advance. A majority of the people are expats who have come from other countries and can’t make most of the holidays,” he said.

What doesn’t help matters either is a single-day holiday falling bang in the middle of a week, with employees not being able to plan anything substantial on the one hand, and the break leading to loss of continuity at workplace on the other. “Moreover, public holidays happen in the middle of the week, leading to discontinuity in the work affecting the productivity,” he said.

However, UAE authorities seem to be addressing some of these concerns, at least partly, as evident by the recent shifting of the holidays on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) from Tuesday February 15 to Thursday February 17.

While that is indeed great for employees who will now have a 3-day break instead of a single holiday followed by two working days followed by the weekend, the issue of alignment of private and public sector holidays still remains.

There is some precedent in the Gulf countries when it comes to this.

In 2009, Kuwait’s Labour Committee of Parliament approved the first reading of a law that, among other measures, proposed to remove the discrepancy between public and private sector holidays. Bahrain’s Parliament too backed a new Private Sector Employment Law In 2010, which would bring the number and duration of the private sector’s holidays in line with those of government employees.  However, the voting on the new law has been postponed, due to the huge legal ambiguities that need to be first addressed.

Nevertheless, bringing public and private sector holidays at a par is not something new in the region and could be considered by the UAE as well. However, as Konstantina points out, “I don’t think this [public and private sector holidays] is comparable while it should be noted that such differences are quite common between the public and the private sector all around the world.”

Also see: 3-day weekend in the UAE