Saudi Arabia denies axing shorter work week plan

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Saudi Arabia’s Labour Ministry has denied reports it has axed plans to reduce the working week from 48 to 40 hours and introduce a two-day weekend, according to local media.

Arabic daily Makkah and Dubai’s Gulf News reported on Wednesday the ministry had bowed to pressure from businesses not to decrease working hours because it would have financial impacts and was contrary to some contracts already in place.

However, the ministry denied the reports and said the proposal was with higher authorities for approval, local media said on Thursday.

“Two-day weekends and 40-hour work weeks are still part of the new draft labour law,” ministry spokesman Tayseer Al Mufarrej said, according to government-run Saudi Press Agency.

“The rumours that have circulated on social media sites saying that the ministry was withdrawing the article related to reducing weekly working hours and increasing the work week days is not true.

“The ministry has presented the draft law to higher authorities for endorsement or observation and the ministry has not withdrawn any of its articles or regulations.”

The Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC) had objected to the two-day weekend, saying such a move would lead to huge losses among construction, operation and maintenance businesses, especially contract-based government projects that are based on 48-hour work weeks.

Businesses had claimed they would be forced to hire 30 percent more staff – likely to be expats – to maintain production levels, and the decision would cause businesses to lose money, increase the prices of goods and services and make Saudi exports less competitive.

Proponents of the plan said it would encourage more Saudi nationals into the private sector because they would be guaranteed the same limited working week as the public sector.

In February, the Shoura Council, a government advisory body, backed the plan to bring the kingdom into line with other Gulf states but the change had not yet been ratified by King Abdullah.

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