DUBAI // The difference in working hours and holidays between the public and private sectors will be reduced as part of a plan to make non-Government jobs more accessible to Emiratis.

Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, said today that changes to the law should be in place by the end of the year.

The move is part of the ministry’s three-year “strategic plan for a policy for national labour” that will prioritise citizens. The plan will be in effect from next year.

Mr Ghobash was at a workshop organised by the Ministry of Labour for public and private sector companies and the media.

He said the meeting was in line with the ministry’s aim to partner with government institutions to ensure integration and improve cooperation with the private sector.

“In this way we will be effective contributors in its advancement since it [the private sector] is the driver of economic development and is the strategic choice to enhance opportunities and challenges of employing nationals in the workforce,” Mr Ghobash said.

“The strategic vision of the Ministry of Labour is a road map for the regulation of the labour market for the next three years.

“This is in line with the federal Government plan and the Emirates 2021 plan and especially in terms of creating a diversified knowledge-based economy led by skilled Emiratis.” Humaid bin Dimas Al Suwaidi, assistant undersecretary for labour affairs, said the priority of the 2014-16 plan was to improve flexibility in the market, attract competence and increase productivity.

Details of the plan, which was devised from numerous workshops over the past few months to analyse the challenges ahead, will be placed on the ministry’s website.

Suggestions and proposals from the business community are welcomed.

Mr Ghobash said that in line with directives from Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, necessary amendments to the law would bridge the gap between the public and private sectors in terms of working hours, working days, annual leave and public holidays.

He said he hoped the proposed amendments would be prepared by the end of the year.

Sheikh Mansour said in February during a Government Summit in Dubai that private-sector weekends and public holidays would be brought in line with the public sector.

The existing law grants a day a week of rest for private-sector workers, while government staff get two days off.

The ministry estimates that the public sector receives 15 public holidays and 104 weekend days a year – 119 days off – but the private sector has just 10 public holidays and 52 weekend days, amounting to 62 days off.

Over the past year, the Ministry has called for a national debate on proposals such as a guaranteed two-day weekend and a government supplement for Emirati salaries in the private sector.

Job security, regulated working hours and higher wages are among the reasons Emiratis prefer the public sector.

Figures from the National Statistics Bureau show that about 11.8 per cent of Emiratis are unemployed.

There are only 20,000 Emiratis in the private sector out of more than four million people, compared with 225,000 Emiratis in the public sector.

“We are always looking to recruit more locals within our company,” said Mohamed Al Shurfa, chairman of a private healthcare company, Health Plus.

“The problem is nationals expect high salaries so there are not many working in the private sector. It is always very difficult to recruit them, especially in health care.

“This is an attitude that needs to change. What people should be aware of is that if you have qualifications and experience you can still achieve and progress and earn more.”

Initiatives such as the Government’s Emiratisation drive, Absher, which offers citizens incentives to work in the private sector and upgrades skills, came in for praise.

Dr Juma Bilal Fairouz, chairman of the UAE Consumer Protection Society, said the private sector should mentor young Emiratis.

“You [the private sector] should take care of them, train them, push them forward, trust them and they will produce results,” he said.

“There is market competition everywhere. Both private and public sectors should not say a young local does not have experience so he cannot be hired, they must be trained.”