Feberal law in the UAE allows employees 30 days off a year after their first year. Typically this is taken as a solid month and used by expats to go back home.
My company is in an industrial area in Sharjah. An area where you will see perhaps one or two female faces a year. And when you do, you pull up (if you are female) and offer to drive them to their destination because the whole street has stopped to stare at them.
It’s an area that’s brimming with expats from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Men of all ages who spend their days and nights in the same environment with the same people.
“These poor labourers, they’re here on their own without their families and they only get to go home once a year.” I thought to myself in my first few months as Michael Jackson sang “Heal the World” deep inside my head.
When the time came to plan vacation time for the staff I was prepared for extra vacation time requests from my staff and had already incorporated extra time into my plans.
However almost without exception all I heard from them one by one was “No need vacation this year Madam, maybe next year.”
Could this be because the money in lieu of holiday is more useful to them? Partly I’m sure it is but probably not a very big part.
I can’t speak for all labourers in the country, but the boys in my company like to take vacation time of 4-6 weeks every two or three years. Even the married ones with a wife and children waiting back home.
Especially the married ones with a wife and children waiting back home.
“No freedom when we go back.” they say. “It’s good for a week and then we bore. What to do?”
Going home for our boys is an ordeal. As well as the ritualistic new clothes and bling to show they’ve made it, they are expected to return with gifts for their immediate and extended families.
And if that’s not enough of a deterrent, they reel off what else will be expected of them if they return, trying to outdo each other with the list of horrific demands:
- Pay off loans for unemployed family members
- Stay at home with the wife when all they want to do is go and hang out with their mates drinking and smoking and chilling
- Be accountable to the wife
- Participate in day-to-day decisions and family rows they have no interest in (especially those involving living arrangements of the wife and her in-laws)
- Have their every move monitored by the wife and often the parents too
“Don’t you miss your family? Do your children miss you? How does your wife feel?” I ask.
They can see where I’m going with this and they want to oblige… but they can’t. Each person has a similar answer. “She is fine and happy. She lives with my parents and they give her everything she wants. She doesn’t need anything else.”
They wait until I’ve left the room and tease Mr HW for being here with me. “You have no freedom Boss. Madam is your jailkeeper.”
Dear staff, this is for your wives (if you’ve allowed them Internet access).