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Ramadan hours are not ‘lost hours’ Ministry of Labour warns companies

DUBAI // Staff should not be forced into making up “lost hours” because of the reduced working day during Ramadan, recruitment experts and the Ministry of Labour have warned.

The ministry has ordered that the working day be cut by two hours during the holy month, for Muslim and non-Muslim staff.

Companies that do not comply face punishments including having employees’ visas cancelled, which would be a considerable financial burden.

Staff who are forced to work extra hours can register a complaint with the ministry, said Hamza Zaouali, chief executive of Emirati recruitment company Iris Executives.

“The ministry is only one call away,” said Mr Zaouali. “My advice to companies that do not treat this seriously is watch out for complaints.

“Muslims and non-Muslims have equal rights before the labour law and Ramadan hours apply to everyone and are not time that should be recovered.”

A ministry spokesman said work was reduced by two hours for all employees in all enterprises, institutions and private sector companies without a wage cut during Ramadan.

Some staff said they worked normal hours after making compromises with their employer, such as having other holidays off.

“To balance it out we don’t work on Christmas and New Year,” said an advertising agency employee, who did not want to be identified. “We don’t work less hours during Ramadan when our Muslim friends leave early, so taking the other holidays evens it out for non-Muslims.”

Experts urged consistency to avoid any feelings of discrimination or favouritism.

“The labour law should be implemented rigorously,” said Zack Abdi, managing director of human resources consultancy Provectus Middle East.

“There should be no different treatment based on religion and nationality because this sows the seed of disunity in the workplace.

“If you want to create a team, don’t treat staff differently. Ramadan hours are for all, whether a doorman or chief executive, whatever their religion or nationality.

“Companies must treat staff as assets. This will not happen if some are let off early.”

In some cases, non-Muslim staff have been told to work an extra day to make up for reduced hours.

“Everybody is talking about it being unfair to work on Saturdays but nobody has the guts to take it to the ministry,” said a staffer at a building company where employees work 10-hour shifts.

“Our contract is for a five-day week and an extra day is against labour laws. Muslim workers are allowed to work as per labour law so they work seven hours and have an hour off for prayers. But it’s unfair on the rest.”

Hotels, small businesses and hospitals adjust their working day around Ramadan with flexible hours, said Murali Warrier, who runs a consultancy in Sharjah.

“It’s about keeping up company morale and respecting the country’s religious feelings,” he said.

“Reduced shifts are arranged in hospitals, hotels and industries where everyone cannot leave at the same hour.”

Cutting back work hours helped workers to prepare for Ramadan gatherings, Mr Zaouali said.

“Ramadan is a special time for prayer, reflection and gatherings. That time is given back to people with shorter working hours.”

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(via The National)