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Dubai- Over half of young people living in the Arab World said they would prefer a government job to private sector work, showed the latest findings from the eighth annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey released in October.

However, the preference rises to 70 per cent across the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. This means, more than two-thirds of young national Arabs in the Gulf States still hope to land jobs with government, despite initiatives to encourage them to seek out careers in the private sector.

In the GCC, where governments have traditionally employed the majority of the national workforce, only 15 per cent of young people said they would prefer to work in the private sector, while another 14 per cent had no preference and one per cent didn’t know.

“Persuading young people to take on roles in the private sector is essential to creating a strong, sustainable economy,” said Sunil John, CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller.

Presenting the survey findings at the third Global Islamic Economy Summit in Dubai on October 11-12, John explained that despite ongoing efforts to make the private sector more appealing to young Gulf Arabs, the message isn’t getting through as fast as governments – or the private sector – would like.

“New initiatives and policies, such as Saudi’s Vision 2030, the removal of subsidies on fuel and introduction of VAT across the Gulf, show that governments are serious about new economic realities,” he added.

However, it seems balancing expectations about public sector work with the realities of private sector employment for those young nationals entering the workforce will require more effort.



What would entice Arab youth to work in the private sector?

Higher wages: 51%

Better healthcare and other benefits: 35%,

More paid holidays: 29%

Shorter working hours: 27%

(8th annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2016).


Public sector versus private sector perks

1. Working hours

As per the UAE Labour law (applies to all employees in the UAE whether nationals or expatriates)

Public Sector including those employed in the federal government, government departments, municipality employees, public bodies, and federal and public institutions: Usually works seven hour shifts from 7:30am to 2:30pm

Private sector: The maximum prescribed working hours for an adult employee is eight hours per day or 48 hours per week. However, the working hours may increase to nine hours in the case of those working in trades, hotels, cafeterias, and as guards.

Persons who hold executive/administrative positions are expected to work long hours without overtime pay. Employees may not work more than five consecutive hours per day without breaks for rest, meals, and prayer.


2. Annual leave

Public sector: An employee appointed at a permanent position is entitled to a permanent annual leave with total salary as under:-

1. 30 days for top post.

2. 22 days for remaining posts.


Private sector: For every year of service, an employee is entitled to annual leave of not less than the following:

1. Two days leave for every month if his service is more than six months and less than one year.

2. A minimum of thirty days annually, if his service exceeds one year.

At the end of his service the employee is entitled to annual leave for the fraction of the last year he spent in service.


3. Public holidays (applies to both public and private sector employees)

An employee is entitled to an official holiday with full wage on the following occasions:

1. Hijri New Year’s Day one day

2. Gregorian New Year’s Day one day

3. Eid Al Fitr (end of Ramadan) two days

4. Eid Al Adha and Waqf three days

5. Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday one day

6. Isra and Al Miraj one day

7. National Day one day

The holidays listed above are applicable to all employees whether they are working in the public or private sectors. However, public sector employees may be granted additional days off to those specified on the above occasions, which are announced from time to time.


4. Sick leave

Public: A sick leave will be permitted under an approved medial report from an official medical authority for a period of no more than five working days at stretch every time and with a maximum fifteen working days. An employee will be permitted for a sick leave for a period of no more than one year with a total salary in case the sickness is due to industrial injury. In the case the sickness is continued for more than that period, he shall be referred to the Medical Committee to review the condition in a year.

Private: The employee must report to the employer any injuries or illnesses preventing him from working within a maximum period of two days. The employee is not entitled to any paid sick leave during the probation period. However, after a period of three months continuous service following the probation period, the employee is entitled to sick leave (continous or intermittent) wages as follows:

(1) Full wage for the first 15 days.

(2) Half wage for the next 30 days.

(3) Any following period will be without wage.


5. Maternity leave:

Public: Two-months with full pay.

Private: The mandatory minimum fully-paid leave for new mothers in the private sector is 45 days, if the employee has served a complete year with an employer.


6. Additional granted leaves:

Mourning leave:

Public: An employee shall be granted a mourning leave with a total salary of five working days in case of death of any next of a kin of first degree and for a period of three days in case of death of his relative of second degree.

- A Muslim female employee whose husband passes away shall be granted mourning leave with total salary for a period of four months and ten days starting from the date of demise of her husband.


Private: No official compassionate leave is given to employees in the case of a family death. However, some companies provide one to three days off for mourning.


Hajj leave:

Public: A Muslim employee shall be granted Haj leave for a period of fifteen days with total salary to perform the Haj rites with a maximum twice during his service with a span of no less than ten years. An employee may combine Haj leave and annual leave.


Private: The employer must give the employee once during his employment a special leave without pay to go for Haj (pilgrimage) which should not exceed 30 days. This period is not part of the employee’s annual leave or any other leave which he is entitled to.


Vox pops:

Adel Hussein, Egypt, Finance Manager

“I have always worked in the private sector. Factors such as the performance-based reward system, and the availability of more opportunities is what attracted me to the sector. There is also no limit to growth and promotions in the private sector. I am not interested in shifting to the public sector, however, if I ever think of moving, then I would look at jobs with less working hours and more holidays. I am currently studying for my MBA, and with the heavy workload, it is hard to keep a work-life balance. But, I make sure I spend quality time with my family. Personally, when considering a job, I look for three things, career growth, package, and work environment.”


Oamr Sharif, Emirati, government sector

“I work in the government sector, and I would say the advantages are better hours and benefits, especially for UAE nationals. Before working in this sector, I worked for 10 years in the private sector. The cons of the public sector is that they don’t look at experience like the private sector. If you don’t hold a strong degree, have good terms with your boss, and work really hard, you don’t get a very good status, which is given to five per cent of the staff. This allows you to be promoted after being given the status more than once. I would move to a job in the private sector, only if it offered a much better pay. Being hired for less than promised, never being promoted and with such work politics, I have sort of lost motivation. I decided to open a side business that is related to something I enjoy so I can really enjoy work/life balance.”


Dr Riaz Khan, General Manager of Prime Hospital

“I have been working in the private sector, in the medical field, for 30 years, and my role is to be responsible, available and attentive 24/7. With this kind of job comes a lot of stress, because we have to be available even when traveling or while practicing a hobby or enjoying some family time. We are supposed to work 48 hours a week, however we end up working close to 72 hours, and our off time is never 100 per cent ours. However, I try to find a work/life balance by trying to snatch any opportunity to spend time with my family. I also found that being spiritual helps me get through the day and reduces my stress level immensely.

“I have had the chance to work for the public sector earlier but opted out.”


Carleen S. Faldas, Receptionist at a Ladies’ Only Salon and Spa in Marina

“I am currently employed in the private sector and work as a receptionist at a ladies salon in Dubai. I have always worked in the private sector even back in my home country, the Philippines. I find there is a better organisational culture, more opportunity to use one’s skills, career progression, and higher remuneration in the private sector. I think stability and better benefits for retirement would be the two factors that would make me consider moving to the public sector. In general, things like allowances, health insurance and leave credits are factors I look at when considering a job. When it comes to maintaining a work/life balance, I believe that it all boils down to time management and knowing your priorities, which I am sure involve other things aside from work. We must know what things needs to come first and properly budget the time for both, work and personal life. We are human, and are not designed to only work, but to enjoy god’s precious gift of life.”