x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

High noon law enforcers move in

Teams from the Ministry of Labour are running spot checks to ensure that building contractors give workers a midday break.

Labourers listen to Ministry of Labour officials discuss the midday break rule during a work-site inspection.
Labourers listen to Ministry of Labour officials discuss the midday break rule during a work-site inspection.

Teams from the Ministry of Labour are running spot checks to ensure that building contractors give workers a midday break. But they have found plenty of companies prepared to ignore the rule, putting their employees' health at risk. Praveen Menon joins one group of inspectors The man had a fever and felt giddy. He was trying to rest by lying in the sand, but the scorching heat and dust-filled air were, if anything, making him feel worse. Luckily for him, his predicament was noted by labour inspectors as they carried out spot checks at work sites yesterday to make sure that companies were falling in line with the midday break rule. It resulted in the man's bosses, contractors running building work at Dubai Silicon Oasis, being given an immediate notice demanding an explanation why he had not been taken to hospital. Although it was observing the midday break law, the company could be fined and may face further legal action. The visit was just one of several made every day by Ministry of Labour teams as they look to educate employers and workers, as well as enforce the law. "It is our aim to protect the basic human rights of these workers," said Maher Hamad al Obad, the acting executive director for inspections. "We believe that when the workers get rest their productivity improves, which is beneficial for all." The midday break rule started on July 1 and runs until the end of August. It bans construction companies from conducting any outdoor work between 12.30pm and 3pm. The National accompanied inspectors yesterday on half a dozen site visits. They also checked many others from a distance. Contractors at two sites were issued with notices for various violations. Inspectors have conducted 18,675 site visits in the past two weeks; 201 sites were found to be in breach of the midday break rule. The day started around 10.30am with a briefing at the Ministry of Labour office in Al Qusais as teams prepared their inspections. The first hour would be a "guidance visit", Mr al Obad explained, in which construction companies and their workers would be advised about the regulations. "The aim of such visits is to spread awareness about the rule and ask everyone to respect the idea of stopping work during this period of the day," said Mr al Obad. First stop was the Dubai Silicon Oasis, a residential complex under construction. The inspectors entered the site at noon, their sudden arrival registering surprise on the faces of workers and contractors. There were about 50 to 60 labourers at the site, most of them from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. One of the inspectors addressed the workers in Hindi, telling them: "We are here to help you. If there is any problem, let us know. Working in severe heat will make you ill and we do not want anyone to be ill." Inspectors checked the workers' facilities, including the rest area, and said they were satisfied by what they had seen. The contractors had provided two air-conditioned rest rooms on each floor for the workers to rest during their break. Pamphlets and brochures, containing information about the rules and warnings about the effects of heat, were given out. "We use the break time for our lunch and also catch some sleep. In the summer we get tired very quickly as we sweat a lot," said Ahmed Ali, a worker at the site. The men had been working there for nearly a year. It was at a neighbouring site that the inspectors found the sick worker lying in the sand, though the midday break regulations were being followed. The inspectors asked questions and found that the man had felt he had no choice but to go to work despite being unwell. "The worker told us that he was worried that the company would cut his salary if he took a day off," said an inspector. "He should have been taken to the doctor immediately and should not be at a work site," said Mr al Obad, as he signed off a notice issued to the contractors. "They will now have to come to the labour office and we will conduct inquiries into the matter. "All transactions of the company will be stopped until the matter is cleared up." Such an offence can lead to a fine of Dh10,000 (US$2,720) and may result in the company being referred to the public prosecutor. In their defence, the contractors insisted that the man had been waiting for a vehicle to take him to hospital. It was now 12.30pm and time for the workers to down their tools and rest. The inspection teams moved towards Al Warqa, another area with dozens of construction sites, especially villas and small houses and flats. Unable to check every site individually, the inspectors drove through the area looking around for any labourers who were working. At 12.45pm, the inspectors stopped at a villa where labourers were still on the job in searing heat. Pictures were taken of the site and the workers were asked who had ordered them to work. "Our inspectors made a report of this and questioned the workers if they were asked to work at this time," said Mr al Obad. "If this is a first offence this contractor faces a fine of Dh10,000. However, they will have to come to the labour office tomorrow and fines are issued only after investigation is complete." The inspectors also checked to see if facilities such as cold drinks and shelter were provided at the site. Mr al Obad said the fine for first offenders was Dh10,000, which increased to Dh20,000 and Dh30,000 depending on the number of times an offence was committed. Companies are categorised into A, B and C. A signifies companies without any violations while C represents those that have repeated violations. Companies falling into category C will not be able to issue visas for workers and its file is blocked for any further transactions. The teams moved on and came across another group of men in Al Warqa who were working through the midday break as they painted the outside of a villa. "We have seen two offences and both have been summoned," said Mr al Obad. "This shows our commitment to the rule and our efforts to ensure its implementation." However, at some sites, workers who saw the inspectors approaching downed tools and ran off, obviously in fear that they might be caught. The inspectors are used to this and believe that some companies are telling their men to continue working through the break, but to stop if they see inspectors approaching. pmenon@thenational.ae