x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Midday break fines up 34%

Ministry of Labour reveals 335 companies were fined last month for failing to grant workers a break from the midday heat.

Workers take advantage of the midday break by taking a nap on a construction site in Dubai.
Workers take advantage of the midday break by taking a nap on a construction site in Dubai.

ABU DHABI // Ras al Khaimah had the most violations of the midday-break-rule in July, while Sharjah had the fewest, the Ministry of Labour said yesterday. Ministry inspectors made more than 36,000 visits to worksites across the country last month, stepping up their checks from last year, when they made 55,000 visits during the two-month period in which the requirement for a midday break is in effect. The rule is in place to give construction workers relief from the sun during the hottest period of the year. Last month, 335 companies were fined, compared with 249 in July 2008. However, the percentage of violations in most emirates was no more than one per cent in both periods. The regulation, which is in effect throughout July and August, requires employers nationwide to grant workers on construction sites a break from 12.30pm to 3pm. Only 37 of the 335 companies fined in July had paid the penalties, according to ministry figures released yesterday. Sharjah had the lowest number of violators, 11, which accounted for 0.1 per cent of work sites inspected in that emirate. Ras al Khaimah had the most violations, 85, which amounted to one per cent of the emirate's inspections. Two per cent of companies inspected in Fujairah and Ajman had failed to give their workers the break. In Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Um al Qaiwain, one per cent of inspected sites were fined. Mr bin Demas stressed last month that the ministry had zero tolerance for violators. For a first offence the employer is fined Dh10,000 (US$2,700) and is banned from obtaining new labour permits for three months. For a second offence the punishment is doubled to a Dh20,000 fine and a six-month ban on permits. For a third offence, the company is fined Dh30,000 and is barred from obtaining new work permits for one year. The ministry said that at least 4,389 of July's visits were purely educational: inspectors went to work sites between 10am and 12.30pm to discuss with workers and employers the need for complying with the break rule to avoid potentially fatal heat exhaustion among workers. Although nearly all companies abided by the requirement, many failed to provide suitable shelters for their workers to use during breaks. During recent visits to a number of construction sites in Dubai, workers on break were seen lying on cardboard and plywood. Workers clad in green and blue overalls are also frequently seen resting in public parks in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. Humaid bin Demas, the ministry's acting director general, said last month that none of the fines was issued for a failure to provide break shelters. He said, however, that the ruling stipulates that companies provide shelters. The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi and the Ministry of Labour jointly launched a campaign in May called "Summer in the Heat", giving companies more than a month to introduce their workers to educational material on the dangers of overheating. The material was the result of two years of research by international experts on construction sites in the emirate. They examined a number of factors affecting workers, measuring hydration, heart rate and temperature three times a day for 12 days. In addition to break time and suitable shelter, the rule requires that daily work schedules be posted in public spaces in Arabic and a language understood by the workers. Employers are also to provide equipment to protect workers from occupational hazards. The midday break was introduced in 2005 as 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 introduced. Hospitals have reported that they had received scores of workers suffering from heat exhaustion, despite the compulsory break. Ibrahim Abdullah Hospital in Ras al Khaimah has received up to 120 cases of heat exhaustion since the start of July, including 22 in a single day, doctors said. Since the end of June, the hospital treated at least 179 patients for heat exhaustion. One official at the hospital said the staff were "concerned about these big increases", urging residents to avoid the sun during peak hours. The official said heat exhaustion was seen both in labourers and in others who worked in the open. Dr Yousef al Serkal, the director of Kuwaiti Hospital in Sharjah, said his hospital received eight to 10 cases of heat exhaustion daily, down from last year's 15 to 20 cases per day. But the hospital said that not all the cases of heat exhaustion were a result of companies violating the midday break requirement. mhabboush@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Yasin Kakande