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Inspectors to make daily checks on work breaks

Labour inspectors are now visiting construction sites seven days a week to ensure workers are given their compulsory midday break.

ABU DHABI // Labour inspectors are now visiting construction sites seven days a week to ensure workers are given their compulsory midday break. Since 2005, all employers have been required to give their construction workers a break from 12.30pm to 3pm every day between July 1 and the end of August. Until this year, however, the inspectors have not worked on Fridays or Saturdays.

Out of 1,827 sites inspected on the past two Saturdays, 19 did not give workers time for a midday rest, according to the Ministry of Labour. The inspectors have visited a total of 11,966 sites this month and issued 163 fines to companies not giving breaks to workers. Three employers turned up at a Ministry of Labour office in Khalifa Park for yesterday's open day, a weekly session held to try to settle labour-related complaints.

They each tried to appeal against a Dh10,000 (US$2,725) fine, representing a first offence for failing to comply with the required break. When Humaid bin Demas, the ministry's acting director general, told a representative from one company that the fine would not be waived, the man took his slip and left without a word. "The message is that we will continue inspection," Mr bin Demas told reporters after the session. "No exceptions were made; everyone who didn't give their workers the break was fined."

Mr bin Demas said the two-member inspection teams had documented each infraction with pictures and interviews, which were then viewed by two committees in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Excuses by employers that they did not know about the rules were not accepted since all companies had been informed a month in advance of the rules, officials said. The ministry has also dispatched teams since the beginning of the month to more than 1,600 sites to stress the need for breaks to prevent dehydration, heat stroke or exhaustion.

The number of ministry inspectors has grown to nearly 400, from 80 in 2006. Sixty of them are working full time to ensure the summer break is upheld. There are strong penalties for violating the regulations. After a first offence, the company is fined and banned from receiving new labour permits for three months. A second offence draws a Dh20,000 fine and a six-month ban and a third a Dh30,000 fine and a one-year ban on new permits.

At the moment, the ministry does not have oversight over workers in free zones, which are overseen by the local authorities, or housemaids, for whom the Interior Ministry is responsible. International observers, including representatives of the International Labour Organisation, have recommended that the Ministry of Labour take responsibility for the entire labour force. mhabboush@thenational.ae

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