Gov­ern­ment must tighten mid­day break regime, say labour­ers

More wa­ter, im­proved shade and bet­ter com­pli­ance checks called for


Labour­ers ap­pealed for ex­tra drink­ing wa­ter on con­struc­tion sites, more shaded rest ar­eas and an ex­ten­sion of the mid­day break hours dur­ing which out­door work is not per­mit­ted.

The manda­tory mid­day break starts on Fri­day and will con­tinue un­til Septem­ber 15, dur­ing which time out­door work­ers must be al­lowed to rest from 12.30pm un­til 3pm daily.

With tem­per­a­tures climb­ing to more than 45°C at the on­set of sum­mer, con­struc­tion and clean­ing labour­ers said a one or two-hour ex­ten­sion would make work­ing con­di­tions eas­ier dur­ing the in­tense af­ter­noon heat.

“Look at how we are drenched in sweat and this is in June. At 3 and 4 o’clock it is still like a fry­ing pan out­side. The heat goes into your head and turns your brain up­side down. The su­per­vi­sor does not talk to us prop­erly, and we ar­gue be­cause no one can think prop­erly in that kind of heat,” said Ravi Bai­son, a welder at a con­struc­tion site in Garhoud.

Many men called for tougher, fre­quent and un­sched­uled in­spec­tions while they work on build­ing sites, op­er­ate forklifts, clean win­dows on plat­form lifts, work on con­crete and mor­tar units to fix floors and weld gird­ers.

The men were grate­ful for the three-month af­ter­noon respite but said rig­or­ous checks by gov­ern­ment work­ers would en­sure em­ploy­ers main­tained wa­ter sta­tions and rest ar­eas that stayed cool through the sum­mer where they could eat and nap.

“There is a shaded area but the fans don’t work and there are so many gaps in the metal roof that it is bet­ter to sit out­side be­cause you will boil in­doors. There should be more wa­ter cool­ers at all floor lev­els be­cause in the sum­mer to walk three or four floors for wa­ter takes all the en­ergy out of you,” said Sun­der, a plumber on a site in Qua­sis.

It has been 14 years since the Gov­ern­ment be­gan the mid­day break scheme, dur­ing which it is il­le­gal for labour­ers to work in open spa­ces in di­rect sun­light. Work­ers were ini­tially given an af­ter­noon break for two months and this was ex­tended to three in 2010.

In­spec­tors con­duct ran­dom checks to en­sure com­pa­nies pro­vide sun­shades, wa­ter and first-aid on site.

Com­pa­nies are fined Dh5,000 per worker if they breach the rules and labour­ers are found work­ing out­doors dur­ing the manda­tory break hours.

Emer­gency jobs that are not cov­ered in­clude work re­lated to traf­fic on pub­lic roads, gas pipe­lines, elec­tric­ity, sew­er­age and wa­ter sup­ply.

The Min­istry of Hu­man Re­sources and Emi­rati­sa­tion also con­ducts aware­ness camps to in­form work­ers about their rights and spread in­for­ma­tion about the mid­day break.

On a site in Muhais­nah, a su­per­vi­sor was quick to show that the com­pany had pro­vided makeshift con­tain­ers con­verted into rest ar­eas with wa­ter cool­ers.

“We have first aid ready in case a worker gets de­hy­drated and we reg­u­larly tell them to let us know if they feel tired or ill,” said Ma­too Rajan, who han­dles more than 20 work­ers.

Work­ers said rest ar­eas must be kept at low tem­per­a­tures be­cause the food they bring spoils quickly in the op­pres­sive heat.

“We only have time the night be­fore to cook rice or bread. But noth­ing lasts in this heat. If we have a proper rest area that stays cool we can leave our food in there and also eat in­doors. Wa­ter is avail­able, but un­less it is kept in a cool area, who will want to drink hot wa­ter?” said Majid Kazim, who has worked in the UAE for 20 years.

The men usu­ally spread out news­pa­per sheets or card­board car­tons un­der a tree or take cover un­der a shaded spot out­side the con­struc­tion site zone.

“I have got used to the heat but new­com­ers find it dif­fi­cult. Headaches are com­mon and they feel much more tired. I’m grate­ful for the work I have but cool ar­eas would make our life in sum­mer a lit­tle eas­ier,” Mr Kazim said.

Pawan Singh / The Na­tional

A worker rests on site dur­ing the mid­day break at a con­struc­tion site in Al Warqa, Dubai

Pawan Singh / The Na­tional

Labour­ers wait­ing for their staff bus after the mid­day break at one of the con­struc­tion site in Al Garhoud area of Dubai

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