Construction workers in the UAE should not have to work during the hottest part of the day between 12.30pm and 3pm from 15 June until 15 September, according to new rules issued by the Ministry of Labour.

However, a separate new ruling exempts some workers from the midday working ban if they are performing certain urgent tasks.

The jobs exempt from the midday working ban have been listed by the ministry and include: mixing asphalt and poured concretes if the work must be completed in one day; tasks to increase safety and prevent danger; emergency preparation, or repairs to damaged or malfunctioning equipment, including cutting lines, water supply, sewerage, electricity and cutting off traffic or blocking public roads, and cutting gas pipelines or petroleum flow.

However, there are strict rules governing organisations who use construction workers during the hottest part of the day. “Employers must supply workers with salts and lemon, which is approved for use by health authorities in the country,” said the ministry. “Employers must provide facilities that cater to the health of workers, including first aid, air conditioners, sunshades and cold water. The ministry also requires employers to post a clear schedule to inform workers of the daily working hours during the midday break period, plus provide shelter to them during the resting periods.”

A former HR professional who has worked for many years in the UAE said: “In theory, it all sounds reasonable, however in reality it will require extremely close governance to ensure effective implementation. Sadly, past experience shows unethical employers will abuse their employees by making them work longer hours. Rest may be only be given in high temperatures with a paltry attempt at providing effective cooling for workers. Tough sanctions should be used on employers for failing to look after their staff.”

Al Futtaim is a conglomerate that includes Al Futtaim Engineering, a construction company operating in the GCC. John Harker, chief human resources officer, explained how the company has implemented its own best practices to safeguard construction workers in the heat. He said: “None of our workers at Al Futtaim Engineering have been engaged in work in an open area under the sun during midday in the UAE or other countries such as KSA. In some projects, work may continue during the break, but inside closed areas of buildings only.

“HSE Officers are deployed to each project to ensure compliance – this is part of our values and is in line with our health and safety policy and procedures,” he added.

Graham Boyle is the managing director of Global Executive Consulting, and works with the construction industry. He said: “There are a few critical aspects to construction which the labour law has now accounted for. The pouring of concrete, for example, has to be done from start to end in one go, so there isn’t room for workers to stop. The same thing can be said for building roads, bridges or tunnels as they can have a massive impact on the economy of a city, so allowing workers to work during the usual break is good for business.

“I would stress that these projects are the exception to the rule and allowing workers to work through the break outweighs the benefit of the break. As long as the employers responsible for these workers give them the correct protection to allow them to work without a negative impact on their health or safety then there should be no problems with this. There does need to be tight internal and external governance on this subject, as if it is abused people may suffer.”

Companies found violating workers' rights and making non-essential staff perform tasks outside during the midday ban will be fined Dhs5,000 per worker, up to a maximum Dhs50,000. If the case involves a large number of workers, the company will be degraded and could be forced to cease operations.

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