x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Companies say three months of midday breaks a success

Workers, government officials and companies have declared the summer mid-day break, aimed at protecting labourers from the intense heat, a success.

Labourers with Nurol Construction take their midday break on a project next to the Emirates Palace hotel.
Labourers with Nurol Construction take their midday break on a project next to the Emirates Palace hotel.

DUBAI // Islam Khan has been enjoying his last week of an extended lunch break that gave him time to eat, nap and chat with workmates while avoiding the most intense heat of the summer.

He is among thousands of workers who will down tools for two and a half hours one last time this afternoon, as temperatures dip below 40°C, signalling the end of the summer midday break.

"The heat is much lesser now," said Mr Khan, a mason at a construction site in Dubai Marina. "It would be much easier to work in the afternoons since peak summer is over."

He joined government officials, other labourers and companies in declaring this summer's midday break a success.

The Ministry of Labour had directed companies to give outdoor workers a daily break from 12.30pm to 3pm from July 15 to September 15.

At these times, labourers were not allowed to work in the sun and companies were ordered to provide drinking water and a shaded rest area.

Raed Al Marzouqi, the head of occupational health and safety at the municipality, said companies had followed the ministry's regulations on the break.

"We have not had any reports of people being injured through dehydration, which is a very welcome step forward," said Mr Al Marzouqi, who is responsible for checking industrial sites in the emirate.

He said his office had not received any complaints from labourers, and inspectors did not find companies breaking the rules.

"Usually we get labourers informing us if they are being ordered to work during the hottest period of the day, but this year we did not receive any reports," Mr Al Marzouqi said.

"I think the message is getting across to companies that it is dangerous to work outdoors in such heat."

He said expanding the midday ban to three from two months and introducing tougher fines played an important part.

"The weather is bearable in September," said Sitaram Prajapat, a foreman at a site close to Dubai Media City.

"It felt good to take time off for a couple of hours during the summer. We rested inside the buildings until the break ended."

Mr Prajapat said his company had arranged water but no fans.

Charbel Maalouf, a project manager for the construction company SEG, said the welfare of workers was important.

"We check to make sure the workers are provided with water and energy drinks during the day because they can lose a lot of their nutrients when they sweat," Mr Maalouf said.

"The law is very clear about not forcing people to work outdoors in the heat in the summer months because sometimes it can get above 50°C, and that is too dangerous."

He said the breaks did not apply to those working under shelter with a fan or air conditioning.

"Companies must provide a decent and safe environment for their employees to work in," Mr Maalouf said.

Mohammed Nisar, who supervises gardening labourers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said his company had altered working hours in the summer months.

"Normally we work from 7am to 4pm, but for the last three months the working hours have been from 5am to 1pm," Mr Nisar said. "That way we can get the work done before the heat really sets in from 1pm."

The company has about 100 workers in Dubai and 25 in Abu Dhabi.

"We do landscaping and when it gets too hot … it's just not possible to have people working outside," Mr Nisar said. "The humidity makes it very difficult and we have to make sure people are drinking enough water."

Labourers said the three-month respite was a vast improvement on the two months of previous years.

"It is usually quite hot until the end of this month," said Gustar Ali, a gardener in Dubai Marina. "It is extremely difficult to work in the afternoons.

"We are glad that the midday break is for three months. I hope it remains this way next year too."