Labourers have appealed for additional drinking water units on construction sites, more shaded rest areas and an extension of the midday break hours during which outdoor work is not permitted.
As per UAE law, the midday break starts on Friday and will continue until September 15, during which time outdoor workers must be allowed to rest from 12.30pm until 3pm daily.
With temperatures already climbing to more than 45°C at the onset of summer, construction and cleaning labourers said a one or two-hour extension would make working conditions easier during the intense afternoon heat.
“Look at how we are drenched in sweat and this is in June. At 3 and 4 o’clock it is still like a frying pan outside. The heat goes into your head and turns your brain upside down. The supervisor does not talk to us properly and we argue because no one can think properly in that kind of heat,” said Ravi Baison, a welder at a construction site in Garhoud.
Many men called for tougher, frequent and unscheduled inspections while they work on building sites across the emirate operating forklifts to transport equipment, clean windows on platform lifts, work on concrete and mortar units to fix floors and weld large metal girders on columns.
The men were grateful for the three-month afternoon respite but said rigorous checks by government workers would ensure employers maintained sufficient water stations and rest areas that stayed cool through the summer where they could eat and nap.
“There is a shaded area but the fans don’t work and there are so many gaps in the metal roof that it is better to sit outside because you will boil indoors. There should be more water coolers at all floor levels because in the summer to walk three to four floors for water takes all the energy out of you,” said Sunder, a plumber on a site in Quasis.
It has been 14 years since the UAE government began the midday break scheme during which it is illegal for labourers to work in open spaces exposed to direct sunlight. Workers were initially given an afternoon break for two months and this was extended to three months in 2010.
Inspectors conduct random checks across the country to ensure that companies provide sunshades, water and first-aid on site.
Companies are fined Dh5,000 per worker if they breach the rules and labourers are found working outdoors during the mandatory break hours.
Emergency jobs that are not included cover work related to traffic on public roads, gas pipelines, electricity, sewerage and water supply.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation also conducts awareness camps to inform workers about their rights and spread information about the midday break.
On a work site in Muhaisnah, a supervisor was quick to show that the construction company provided makeshift containers converted into rest areas with water coolers.
“We have first-aid ready in case a worker gets dehydrated and we regularly tell them to let us know if they feel tired or ill,” said Matoo Rajan, who handles more than 20 workers.
But workers said that rest areas must be maintained under low temperatures since the food they bring spoils quickly in the oppressive heat.
“We only have time the night before to cook rice or bread. But nothing lasts in this heat. If we have a proper rest area that stays cool we can leave our food in there and also eat indoors. Water is available but unless it is kept in a cool area, who will want to drink hot water?” said Majid Kazim, who has worked in the UAE for 20 years.
The men usually spread out newspaper sheets or cardboard cartons under a tree or take cover under a shaded spot outside the construction site zone.
“I have got accustomed to the heat but the newcomers find it difficult. Headaches are common during this time and they feel much more tired. I’m grateful for the work I have but cool areas would make our life in summer a little easier.”