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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Outdoor workers call for crackdown on companies flouting midday break rules

Labourers say they are often told they must stay on-site during the break and are not given a place to shelter and hydrate, contrary to the law.

Indian worker Nageshwar Rao lies on cardboard in the shade during the midday break at his construction site in Al Warqa, Dubai Pawan Singh / The National
Indian worker Nageshwar Rao lies on cardboard in the shade during the midday break at his construction site in Al Warqa, Dubai Pawan Singh / The National

Labourers have called for a crackdown on employers flouting midday break rules by not offering them water and a cool area to rest during the two-and-a-half hour interval at the hottest part of the day.

Outdoor workers say too many companies are not abiding by the rules as they do not offer them somewhere other than the work site to spend the break, and few workers that The National spoke to said their employer provided water on site.

The law states that employers must provide “proper lighting, drinking water and toilets” on-site and that they are obliged to offer “an appropriate shelter for such labour to rest during this [midday break] period”, adding that labourers “shall not be present at the working site after 12.30pm. No business shall be resumed before 3pm”.

However, most labourers said that they are told to remain on-site during the break, often where there is no appropriate shaded space for them to rest.

Vinod Kumar, an Indian watchman at a construction site near Al Etihad Mall in Al Mizhar, Dubai, said he is not allowed to leave the worksite.

“Sometimes I run out of water and I go to the mall to get some,” said the 27-year-old who earns Dh1,000 a month.

“And if something is lost at the construction, the employers deduct it from my salary. I left the site once for half an hour to go to the bathroom and get food in a nearby mall and an item at the site got lost and the employer deducted Dh300 from my salary.

“It is very difficult to stay in this weather. The weather this year is the hottest ever.”

Vinod Kumar said he sometimes runs out of water and has to go to nearby Etihad Mall in Dubai to get more, even though his company policy is that staff are not allowed off site, contrary to the midday break law Pawan Singh / The National
Vinod Kumar said he sometimes runs out of water and has to go to nearby Etihad Mall in Dubai to get more, even though his company policy is that staff are not allowed off site, contrary to the midday break law Pawan Singh / The National

Pakistani worker Shahen Nawaz said it is his company’s policy that workers stay on-site.

“During the midday break, we stay at the construction site in Al Warqa. It’s the company’s policy,” said the 38-year-old expat who lives in Sonapur, a labour accommodation area close to the border with Sharjah.

“We start work at 6am and leave the construction site at 6pm. From 12.30pm until 3pm, we rest under a shaded area in the construction site, where there’s a fan that doesn’t work and few bottles of water.”

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Termebdor Jaswan, 27, from India, lies on a mattress on the ground to rest during the break in Al Warqa, Dubai.

“My monthly salary is Dh900. I am poor and have no other option but to work here in the heat,” said the father for two.

“I can’t complain about the low salary, the unbearable heat and the low amount of water. Whenever someone complains, our employer fires him. There are many construction workers and employers can always find a replacement, so we accept whatever they give us.

“But what is the point of the midday break if we stay at the construction site and we have no place to rest? Our employers do not care about our health. They just care about the amount of work done.”

Another worker, Mohammed Abed, from Pakistan, echoed his sentiments.

“We never complain about this issue as the employers might cancel our visa,” he said.

“One of our colleagues passed out and was taken to hospital about two months ago [because of the heat].”

At a construction site near Khalifa City, in Abu Dhabi, a project engineer was keen to stress that his company does provide water and shelter for workers, in accordance with the law.

“We have two rooms with air conditioners and water for them to rest,” he said.

A worker at the site, Jafar Sayed, 37, from Egypt, said that, despite the heat, he is happy to be making money.

“I thank God I have a job. No matter how much effort or struggle we face in this heat, I remain thankful that I have a job to support me and my family,” he said.

“I have been working as a construction worker for five years so I’ve got used to the excessive heat.”

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, formerly the Ministry of Labour, conducts about 60,000 field visits each summer to check on compliance to the midday break rules and offers about 20,000 educational visits to ensure labourers are aware of their rights.