Breaking point

Angela Giuffrida asks whether workers are really benefiting from the UAE's midday working ban.

COMMENT, Human Resource

Scenes of construction workers walking away from their sites at the turn of 12.30pm are familiar across the emirates right now.

Some of them will be heading to their buses, which will transport them back to their camps for a two-and-a-half hour break from the afternoon heat.

For those lucky enough to live close to their construction site, the rest will no doubt be welcomed.

But for those who have to while away the hours sitting on a bench under the shade of a tree or in an air-conditioned container, the chance of respite probably doesn't bode so well.

One contractor said his workers described the experience akin to ‘waiting at a bus stop'.

This year's midday working ban has come with as much fanfare as it did in 2006.

Once again, there's talk of getting tough on wayward contractors who flout the rules by fining and exposing them to the public.

From this, one can't help but conjure up an image of ruthless contractors chaining their workers to scaffolding so they can't leave the site for a few hours.

The image that's a little more difficult to picture is one in which labourers are begging their employers to let them carry on working under the baking sun.

Maybe some would rather run the risk of heatstroke and work than lose out on a couple of hours pay, every day for two months.

The reason? They have nowhere to go to actually rest.

The reality is that by the time many of them negotiate the afternoon traffic to their camp and back, the point of the midday working ban becomes null and void.

The fact that the ban has been implemented for the third year running, and the authorities are getting stricter, is a sign that the drive to improve conditions for labourers does exist.

But what seems to be missing is a solution that fits all. The purpose of the break isn't to catch those rebelling against the rules, it's about providing workers with protection from the heat.

At the moment, the situation is far from win-win. Contractors are losing out on lost productivity. But, once again, the biggest losers of all are the workers.

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