Breaches of midday break law rise by 70%

The labour ministry increases efforts to target employers ignoring the summer regulation; the result is a big increase in violations.

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ABU DHABI // The number of companies caught violating the midday break law increased by 70 per cent this summer as the Government ramped up inspections. A total of 677 companies across the UAE were found breaking the law, compared to 398 last summer, according to the Ministry of Labour.

The regulation requires employers to let outdoor workers rest from 12.30pm to 3pm in July and August, and to provide a shaded, cooled area for their break. Companies caught breaking the law are fined Dh10,000 (US$2,725) and banned from obtaining new labour permits for three months. The percentage of companies caught by the ministry remained roughly the same as last year, with less than one violation found for every 100 inspections. But last year there were only 45,985 inspections; this year that number increased to 75,209.

Humaid bin Deemas, the acting directing general of the Ministry of Labour, said the number of inspections would continue to increase as the department expanded. "We give high attention to the inspection sector due to its significant role in maintaining society's sustainability and safety," Mr bin Deemas said. "Since we issued the midday break law five years ago, the inspection sector has witnessed significant growth every year, in order to ensure that we are meeting the labour market's growing needs."

The department now has 106 members, and he said the number of inspectors could be expected to rise every year. The Ministry of Labour has tried to encourage more young nationals to join the inspection department, he said. Among the emirates, Dubai had the most violations this summer with 176. It also had the highest number of inspections. Companies cited in the other emirates included 153 in Abu Dhabi, 152 in Ras al Khaimah, 74 in Ajman, 65 in Fujairah, 33 in Sharjah and 24 in Umm al Qaiwain. Sharjah had the lowest percentage of companies breaking the law, at just 0.2 per cent of those inspected.

Inspectors found about 99 per cent of companies across the country were sticking to the rules, compared to 75 per cent when the law first came into force. Of the companies cited this year, 436 were first-time offenders. The other 241 were charged for the second time, and their penalties were doubled. The midday break was introduced in 2005 as a four-hour rest period, but it was reduced to two-and-a-half hours the next year.

The ministry said it also made 6,962 "awareness visits" outside of the midday break hours to make sure employees were aware of their rights and knew how to stay cool when humidity and temperatures soar. The midday summer heat can cause potentially fatal health problems if workers do not keep properly hydrated and stay away from direct sunlight. Hospitals said they still received numerous cases of heat exhaustion despite the break. Ibrahim Abdullah Hospital in Ras al Khaimah said it had about 120 cases during July, including 22 in one day.

However, cases of heat related illnesses seem to be dropping year by year, officials said. The Ministry of Labour has stressed that the regulations covered any companies with employees working outside, not just construction workers, and it was often those in other industries that were caught violating the law.