x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Flexibility needed on midday breaks

The compulsory midday break is over, but because of the calendar, not the day's weather. This is not the most sensible approach.

All UAE residents are familiar with the phenomenon at this time of year where the daily temperatures are well below the maximums of midsummer but the onset of cloying humidity means life is, if anything, even more uncomfortable.

The labourers who are helping build the modern UAE know this all too well, and especially today because it will be the first day since the end of the compulsory midday break imposed for three months each summer.

Some construction workers are lobbying for the midday break system to be more flexible so it will be set by actual conditions rather than an arbitrary date set by the calendar.

It deserves consideration.

The decision by the Ministry of Labour in 2005 to introduce the compulsory midday break was an important initiative for the UAE because it demonstrated that the government took seriously the welfare of its expatriate workforce at every level.

Quite apart from matters of welfare, the indications are that the break also improves productivity. This is just common sense – a comfortable worker usually achieves more than one who is concentrating on coping with arduous working conditions.

The concept of a midday break is hardly groundbreaking. As demonstrated by Spain’s famous siesta, most countries with hot summers have adopted a long break in the middle of the day, even if the system is usually an informal arrangement rather than one with legislative force, as is the case in the UAE.

Commendably, the Ministry of Labour has also been assiduous in enforcing the law when unscrupulous companies ignore the midday break rule and compel their labourers to keep working through the hottest part of the day.

This summer, the ministry was scheduled to make 50,000 site visits to ensure the midday break rule was being upheld.

Overwhelmingly, it was. Figures compiled midway through the summer showed a compliance rate of 99.41 per cent, with companies in breach facing Dh15,000 fines for each violation.

All this shows the message is getting through and that the welfare of workers, even at the lowest end of the pay scale, is taken seriously.