Dubai: The UAE public sector has enjoyed twice as many holidays as the private sector since the previous National Day, figures show.
A tally by Gulf News shows the federal government granted 20 holidays to the public sector and 9 to the private sector from December 2, 2012 until now.
The number of holidays for the two sectors for the upcoming National Day has not yet been declared.
The previous holidays were awarded to both sectors on Islamic occasions as well as for National Day and New Year. However, the public sector received, in total, over twice the number of days off than the private sector.
It is common for the holiday count to differ between the two sectors in the UAE. During spells of national holidays, public sector workers typically enjoy longer breaks and shorter working weeks.
That difference is often taken into consideration by Emiratis when deciding where to work, jobseekers and work placement agents have long said.
However, government officials have also been encouraging UAE nationals to take up positions in private sector companies to compete in the job market – around 90 per cent of private sector jobs are held by expatriates in the UAE.
Meanwhile, government jobs are overwhelmingly held by Emiratis.
Michael Lorrigan, managing director of Spearhead Training (Spearhead Gulf), said there should be a “level playing field” between the two sectors.
“I think there is a split opinion here. At many seminars I attend we hear that Emiratis are keen to work in the private sector, because that is really where the economic expansion of the UAE is going to come from,” Lorrigan said.
“Logically, therefore, the real job opportunities for Emiratis lie in getting into these sectors – not the government. With a young Emirati population the focus surely must be on getting far more Emiratis into the private sector. It makes both economic and social sense.”
He added: “On the other hand, you do hear about Emiratis who only want public sector jobs because of the shorter hours, longer holidays and pensions, etc.
“Therefore, what we need is a more level playing field.”
At Spearhead, a professional training provider, staff are given longer national or public holidays in exchange for working more voluntary hours during certain periods. A number of other workers in private companies also said they follow a similar arrangement.
Lorrigan said: “We, as a company, give longer holidays, and have voluntary working during Ramadan for non-Muslims, who are then compensated for their own religious holidays – Christmas, Diwali, etc.
“We also give longer Eid holidays to our Muslim staff. So, we believe everyone wins… At the same time, I would propose longer hours for the public sector to bring it closer to the public sector.”
However, some private companies cannot afford to give more days off, said a Dubai businessman.
“The government has regular ‘customers’ who can only go to them for services, like immigration or courts. If I close down for many days, my customers will go to the competition,” said Mohammad Omar, who runs a UAE-based tourism company.
“Also, the public sector doesn’t have to worry about maximising profits, that’s not what they’re about. But private entrepreneurs always see the bottom line in everything.”
Emirati engineer Ali Rashid, 34, who works in a government department, said many public sector workers continue to work during national holidays.
“People work in shifts, they work in essential services. It’s not like everything just stops. I’ve worked till 10pm or midnight sometimes on my days off, there’s compensation,” Rashid said.
“Yes, it’s nice to have a longer holiday, but if you’re doing your job, that’s what counts in the end.”