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Five day week gets low response

The region's contractors remain lukewarm to the idea of cutting the working week from six days to five, despite the advantages it may bring.

Suggestions of a five day week for construction workers has been met with a lukewarm response by the industry.
Suggestions of a five day week for construction workers has been met with a lukewarm response by the industry.

The region's contractors remain lukewarm to the idea of cutting the working week from six days to five, despite the advantages it may bring. Although the construction industry is desperate to improve staff retention, boost morale and attract new recruits, tight time frames may make a reduction in working hours impractical.

"With 90% of the jobs given to any contractor, they squeeze you so much it makes it impossible to work just five days," said Saeed Massoudi, managing director, Al Ahmadiah Contracting & Trading. "What would happen is simple -- you will have to bring additional people in for the extra two days."

The debate over the five day week has been prompted by a large number of defections from contracting firms to project management and consultancy companies, where five days is the norm. Other, longer standing concerns include worker fatigue, wage inflation at management level and low numbers of GCC nationals in the industry, all of which are exacerbated by the six day working week.

Unfortunately, pressure to get jobs done within tight time frames may make the switch impossible. "If a working day becomes a holiday, companies are going to have to pay people overtime to work, which means paying them double the normal time, which is going to be an additional cost to them," said Dr Imad Al Jamal, vice president, higher technical consultative committee, UAE Contractors Association.

"The big companies might be able to afford it with high margins, but medium and small-sized ones won't. Some of the smaller construction firms are working 24/7, and are just about surviving. What will be the impact and cost of these actions on them? I don't think it will work."

That view is shared by Anton du Plooy, HR manager, Al Jaber Services. "They wouldn't be able to do it because it's incredibly difficult to do jobs within deadlines," said du Plooy. "If you did enforce it across sites, profitability could generally go down as you would either lose money on penalties, or would have to invest more money in overtime."

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