WORKERS TOIL IN THE HEAT
Working outside a challenge for many
If Ramadan is intended to be a struggle for every Muslim, a test of their faith, then it’s the ultimate challenge for construction workers toiling in the midday heat.
With temperatures due to hit 44C in UAE cities this week, 7DAYS spoke to labourers determined to maintain their fast. That includes not having a sip of water from dawn until dusk.
The midday break rule that prevents labourers from working under direct sunlight from 12.30pm-3pm comes into effect from Wednesday, and is meant to bring some respite, but for many it still means hours spent outside.
What is more commendable is that many of the men who are building this country are sticking to their fast voluntarily.
Labourers are exempt from fasting if they feel they are working beyond their physical ability in the summer heat, according to the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment.
A fatwa issued by the authority in 2010 stated that labourers may end their fast for the day and compensate for missed days at a later stage.
But those 7DAYS spoke to felt it is their duty to fast during the Holy Month.
Bangladeshi worker AK, 22, who works in Abu Dhabi, said it is going without water that tests them the most.
He said: “Although our contractors have told us to avoid heavy work, like shovelling and lifting throughout the summer, we still have to do it.
“In a job like ours, we cannot make excuses, and we end up feeling very thirsty. “We start our shift at 5am and work until 4.30pm. From the moment we step out of our rooms, the heat is terrible.
“The rest of our day is spent in the sun.”
Another Bangladeshi labourer, AH, 24, said: “We try to eat and drink as much as we can late in the night because that is the only time we get.
“Even when we reach back to our rooms, there is no time for rest. We get two uniforms every six months and with the heat we sweat so much that we have to wash our uniforms every day.
“We cook and have a heavy dinner, usually rice and fish, and gulp down lots of water once we get up. We get about five hours of proper sleep every night.”
With constant exposure to heat, many labourers, like 29-year-old Pakistani worker SH have recurring health issues too.
He said: “Whenever I face light for a long time, I get a piercing pain in my head, which the doctor said was migraine.
“During the summer along with the heat, this has become a daily problem. I cannot even take sick leave for it because it is every day, painkillers don’t help either.”
For the crew on one Abu Dhabi worksite, if they finish their shift later than expected, or miss their bus, there is a three-hour wait in the heat for their next ride home.
Indian worker KN, 35, said as he waited for the 5pm bus having finished his shift at 2pm.
He added: “Sometimes the bus is late or early and people miss it. This means I have to stand and wait in the heat for at least three more hours to get back to Musaffah, there is no other way to go back.”
Making Dhs900 per month, labourers are ready to work overtime for as little as Dhs3.5 per hour, according to one Bangladeshi worker, AM, 38, who has been working in the UAE for the past four years.
He said: “We make around Dhs10 for three hours extra, which is close to 200 takas back home - that is a lot of money.”
‘Although our contractors told us to avoid heavy work, we still have to do it. we cannot make excuses.’ – Bangladeshi worker AK
TIRING TIME: For workers on construction sites across the UAE