Midday break rule is working in Abu Dhabi
As the weather heats up in the capital, the authorities and employers are doing their best to ensure construction workers stay cool.
The Ministry of Labour’s recent inspections have revealed that 99.6 per cent of firms in the UAE have shown compliance with the mandatory midday break for outdoor workers since it came into effect on June 15.
The ministry officials said the two-and-a-half hour break for labourers is compulsory and workers should down tools from 12.30pm to 3pm until September 15.
The rule, which mainly affects construction workers, was introduced by the Ministry of Labour in 2005. Insider visited various construction sites in Abu Dhabi this week during the midday break and chatted with some of the workers.
Bangladeshi Mohammed Khan said: “It’s good that the company gives us a break from work during these summer months. The temperatures are so hot these days.
“It is very hard to operate in such conditions as it affects your health.
“For instance, we are now working on the top floor of the building. It’s very hot up there. No one can endure such heat.”
Pakistani Mohammed Ijaz was sitting in front of a shop near his worksite on Muroor Road, Abu Dhabi during the midday break. “I prefer sitting outside here because it is too congested inside, there’s no room for breathing,” said Ijazi, adding that his company had provided the 150 labourers on the site with a resting room in the basement of the building they are currently working on.
One worker has urged the authorities to look into the issue of earnings related to the midday break and ensure all employers pay the workers full salaries.
Aman K from India has worked for an Abu Dhabi firm for the past five years.
According to the labourer, a two-and-a-half hour break in the middle of the day directly affects his monthly earnings as his employer doesn’t pay him.
“I like the midday break rule because it gives us a respite from work during the hottest period of the day,” he said.
“Sometimes I feel that the midday break rule is bad because I am not paid if I don’t work for these hours.
My company wants me to work from 8am to 6pm. I earn Dhs1,300 a month if I work the whole day. Taking a break from work means that part of my salary is deducted because I am not on duty for some of the hours,” claimed Aman.
Another worker, 40-year-old Jaspal, wants companies to provide workers with good shelters where they can rest from the heat during the midday break.
“There are only two air-conditioners in our resting room,” he said. “It doesn’t do much for the many workers resting inside there. It still remains hot.”
A doctor at the emergency section of Sheikh Khalifa Hospital said that admissions for heat-related illnesses at their hospital have decreased significantly this year.
“In the past two weeks, we have treated just a few workers for heat exhaustion,” said the doctor. He noted that if temperatures are 44C and above, labourers shouldn’t be working, for their safety.
“Employers should rest these men if they see that the temperatures are high, even in times when the midday break rule doesn’t apply, to protect them from the direct exposure to sunlight,” added the doctor. He said that companies should also create an environment in which workers could report problems with their health to their supervisors because there has been cases during previous years where workers suffered heat exhaustion but were scared to report it to their superiors.
Maher Al Obad, assistant undersecretary for inspection affairs at the Ministry of Labour said that only 34 companies have been found violating the midday regulation since it came into effect last month.
Those companies have been punished accordingly, said the official. He added that 16 inspection teams made 7,965 visits to various worksites to ensure that firms were complying with the rules.
The officials also made 116 other visits to raise awareness among workers and employers about the midday break rule. Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, has organised a programme to educate construction workers in the capital about heat stress and how to avoid it.
The programme includes presentations from Masdar City health and safety department and Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) authorities on controlling heat exhaustion at construction sites.