ABU DHABI // The Ministry of Labour has issued 73 fines for violations of the compulsory midday break at work sites within a week of this year's rule being introduced. The regulation, which has been issued annually since 2005 and applies until the end of August, requires employers nationwide to grant construction workers a break from 12.30pm to 3pm.
Under the ministerial decree issued in May, employers must also provide a shaded area for workers to rest in. The fines were issued last week as a sharp rise in humidity coincided with temperatures reaching their hottest point of the year so far, with highs of 47°C in Abu Dhabi and 49°C in Al Ain. "We don't accept any excuses for not complying with the decision," said Hamid bin Demas, the ministry's acting director general.
"All excuses are unacceptable, and the regulation is being strictly enforced." At the ministry's weekly meeting with members of the public, dozens of employers pleaded without success for the fines to be revoked. There are strong penalties for companies caught breaking the regulations. For a first offence the employer is fined Dh10,000 (US$2,725) and is banned from issuing 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 one-year ban on new permits.
The National reported on the day that this year's rule went into effect that construction continued through the hottest hours at several sites in Sharjah. All the sites visited in Abu Dhabi and Dubai had complied with the requirement, although some workers still struggled to find shaded areas to rest. More than 100 Ministry of Labour inspectors will visit sites across the country during the summer months to ensure that employers are abiding by the rules.
Inspectors found 398 violations last year, a reduction from 617 in 2007. Mr Demas said the ministry inspected more than 4,600 locations, mostly construction sites, from July 1 until Monday. More than 90 per cent of the locations complied with the regulations. "Only 1.5 per cent, which is 73 sites, did not comply," Mr bin Demas said. "The companies should provide a place for rest during the break, and the worker can call us if the company fails to do so."
The midday break was introduced in 2005 with a four-hour rest period, but this was reduced to two and a half hours the following year. Last year officials said 99 per cent of companies were abiding by the regulations, compared with 75 per cent when the break was first introduced. Companies may be exempted from the regulation if it is "imperative that work should continue without interruption". This includes the laying of asphalt and concrete, and work necessary to prevent public hazards, such as repair of water and electricity supply.
Work for the "smooth flow of traffic and other services" and "any other tasks approved by the director general of the ministry", are also exempt. If work must continue through the heat of the day then companies must provide ample water, drinks, on-site first aid and shade and cooling devices. There is evidence that strict enforcement of the breaks is having a positive impact. In Ras al Khaimah, the number of labourers struck by heat exhaustion has halved, according to officials at Saqr Hospital and the emirate's Ministry of Labour office.
"There are much less than at this time last year," said Dr Yousuf al Tair, the head of emergency at Saqr Hospital. "I can say the reduction is around 50 or 60 per cent. Last year from May to September there were around 180 cases and around 90 per cent were labourers. This year is quite good and only a few cases have reached emergency; 90 per cent of cases are quite simple." Only two cases of heat exhaustion were reported last week, despite the hot and humid weather, Dr al Tair said.
"Now everyone knows the meaning of heat exhaustion and heat stroke," he said. "Secondly, because of the law, they have stopped working under the sun." The RAK Ministry of Labour office says about 10 violations of the rules were filed during the first week of July. Saeed al Neaimi, the manager of the RAK office, said: "We feel that companies have followed the rules and it is better than last year. Last year there were more than 20 cases. A lot of people last year were in the hospital."
email@example.com * With additional reporting by Anna Zacharias