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Sat 27 Oct 2007 04:00 AM

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The question of the day

Bishoy Azmy, CEO of ASGC, looks at the likelihood of introducing a two-day weekend and its potential impact.

In the last few years the construction sector in the gulf, in general, and in the UAE in particular has been experiencing a boom that has had many positive implications on the modus operandi of the professionals working in that sector.

For one thing, the salaries of individuals working in the construction industry have witnessed the largest relative hikes in this period, as verified by various surveys that are conducted now and again. For another thing the level of professionalism in the industry as a whole is improving, with better understanding of contractual matters and relations, greater use of technology, a more discerning approach to quality control, and most importantly a higher emphasis on safety on site.

The overwhelming majority of contractors still work six long days and sometimes even seven.

The buoyant real estate market, the healthy economic environment, the better pay ranges that are attracting high-calibre individuals and the exposure of the local market to major international players have all had a pleasantly noticeable effect on the industry in many regards.

One hot topic that is now in the limelight and is being mulled over by the various participants in the industry is the two-day weekend. Many developers and project management firms, along with some engineering and consulting offices have already a five-day working week, but the overwhelming majority of contractors still work six long days and sometimes even seven.

With all these above mentioned improvements, people are beginning to wonder when, if ever, the local construction industry will take the step and adhere to a five-day working week, like other sectors in the country.

Some contractors have opted for a partial solution in which Saturdays are considered as working days but with only half the staff in attendance. In this way, work proceeds almost at the same pace, yet every employee has a long weekend every other week.

When grilled about this subject, most of the top management of construction companies do admit that with the harsh working environment, breakneck pace of construction, long working hours and stringent project requirements a two-day weekend is only fair to allow their staff to unwind and enjoy their social and family life. But they cringe at the thought of the hefty penalties that would be imposed on them in case of project delays as a result of the ensuing reduction in working hours, and they point out that such a change would only be possible if it was to be implemented as a law or an industry wide moratorium, with fair considerations for the outcome.

It should not be forgotten that this industry is internationally renowned for the unbelievably short durations of construction contracts. It has become common to hear annual visitors to Dubai comment on how they no longer recognize the city due to the miraculously transformed skyline. Would such an industry be able to acclimatise itself, with all the implications this has on the various stakeholders, to a more relaxed timeline? Possibly, but such an initiative would need to be understood and supported by the ultimate drivers of the industry: the clients.

So, what is the verdict at the moment? Nothing yet, but the fact that the issue is now at least being so vigorously debated is in itself a healthy sign which bodes well for tomorrow.

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