Ensuring the welfare and safety of workers is a key priority for the Government. Employee rights are enshrined in law and enforced with rigour. The midday break that goes into effect every summer is a good case in point. It is designed to create safe conditions for outdoor workers by imposing a prohibition on working under direct sunlight between 12.30 and 3pm every day.
Midday breaks were originally meant to last for two months when they were first introduced in 2004, before being extended in 2010 to three months. The results have been salutary. Employees have welcomed the respite from the heat, while doctors have reported a significant drop in heat exhaustion cases. It should go without saying that, as well as promoting the general well-being of society, a healthy and contented workforce also benefits employers.
But there are also cases of non-compliance, suggesting that some employers remain blind to the blindingly obvious. In 2015, 30 firms were found by the UAE Ministry of Labour to be in violation of the midday-break decree. They were each fined Dh5,000 for every employee put to work during the rest hours. The Ministry of Labour’s inspection teams carry out 60,000 field visits annually to monitor compliance with the law, about 20,000 of which are educational in nature, devoted to raising awareness among employees of their rights and the obligations of employers to them. This year, inspectors have even been equipped with smart systems to ensure compliance.
Employers must step up their game – not only by obeying the letter of the law but also by upholding its spirit. Workers should not be punished for demanding the rights granted to them by the law or for questioning on-site practices. The law calls for proper facilities – including water, toilets and shelter – for workers during the midday break. Some employers have failed to provide these. The government is doing all that it can to enforce the law, but the responsibility for a fair, just and productive society is not its alone.