Water, vitamin supplements and shelter must be made available to all outdoor workers to cope with stifling summer temperatures, the UAE government has told companies.
The midday break lasts until September 15 during which outdoor workers must be allowed to rest from 12.30pm to 3pm daily.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Maher Al Obed, the assistant undersecretary for inspections, warned companies that workers needed the break to meet health and safety requirements.
Last week, The National visited work sites around Dubai and Abu Dhabi and found labourers whose companies that were flouting the midday break, by failing to give their employees water and basic shade.
One worker, Termebdor Jaswan, 27, from India, described working "in unbearable heat and a low amount of water". Others said they had no access to toilets on-site, forcing them to walk in the midday heat to nearby malls.
“Temperatures are unbearable during summer times in the UAE and workers need the break,” Mr Al Obed said.
More than 140 companies were found to be breaching the rule, the department said, though the vast majority complied.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation cautioned companies that “workers must be supplied with water at all times, as well as minerals which are approved for use by health authorities in the country. They must be provided access to first aid kits on site in addition to protective umbrellas."
The ministry added that labourers should not work in open spaces during the hours deemed off limit due to the oppressive heat, but companies involved in completing urgent projects can resume work after the mid-day break ends.
In exceptional cases when work must be continued during the midday break timings due to technical reasons, the labour affairs assistant under-secretary Humaid Bin Deemas asked companies to look out for the well-being of the workers.
Employers must supply workers with salt and lemon that is approved for use by health authorities in the country, he said adding that facilities such as first aid, air-conditioners, sunshades and cold water should also be available on work sites.
A daily work schedule in Arabic and other languages must also be placed on noticeboards so workers understand the timings.
The break is in its 13th year and began by giving workers an interval for two summer months until 2010 when the break was extended to three months from June 15 until September 15.
Doctors and authorities say there has been a decline in the number of heat exhaustion cases, but workers interviewed by The National said that some companies did not provide drinking water or a cool area to rest during the two-and-a-half hour afternoon break.
National Editorial: Workers deserve a fair deal on the midday break
As per government rules, the daily working hours must not exceed eight hours in the morning or night shift, and overtime must be paid to those working additional hours.
The ministry announced that there was 99.7 per cent compliance of the rules by 53,569 companies from June 15 to date, with only 143 firms found breaching them.
As per the law, companies are fined Dh5,000 per worker if they are detected working during the summer break hours.
The ministry released the number of inspections per emirate with 13,375 patrols in the capital, 11,022 in Dubai, 5,073 in Sharjah, 8,047 in Ajman, 5,687 in Ras Al Khaimah, 2,728 in Umm Al Quwain and 7,780 in Fujairah.
The emergency work that is not included in the break includes work involving water supply, sewerage, electricity and related to traffic flow on public roads, work on gas pipelines or connected to the flow of petroleum, the ministry has said.