Perched precariously on a scaffold on the side of a big pink villa, I spot a worker using a roller brush painting the side of its wall under the blazing midday sun.
I tap my finger on the side of the white 4x4 vehicle we are driving and alert the front-seat passenger, Jassin Yaqoob, an inspector for the UAE Ministry of Labour. The car screeches to a halt.
“Wait,” he instructs me as I move to open the car door. In a flash, Yaqoob whips out his digital camera, opens his door, and snaps the now bewildered-looking labourer. In an instant, he climbs down from the scaffold and disappears behind the gated surrounds of the villa.
Yaqoob pursues the worker into the grounds and tracks him down. Shaking his head, the man initially denies he was working. But Yaqoob shows him the photographic evidence, before requesting his labour card and issuing him with a summons to give to his employer, which could result in a fine of up to AED30,000.
This scenario is typical of the daily routine of the ministry’s 70 inspectors as they drive between outdoor construction sites in the UAE to enforce the summer time working regulations, banning outside work between 12.30pm and 3pm daily until August 31.
A company is considered to be in breach of the ban, if one or more of its employees are seen working outside between those hours. Companies caught breaking the law the first time will be fined AED10,000 for each employee working outside, with this amount doubling to AED20,000 if it is a repeat offence. Firms found violating the regulations a third time will be fined AED30,000 per employee.
Persistent offenders can face increased charges for government services such as administration and visa fees. In severe cases, companies can also face being denied the right to obtain work permits for at least six months.
Arabian Business and other media accompanied a team of ministry officials from the Dubai office as they carried out their inspections in the Al Warqa area of Dubai, near Emirates Road.
Made up of large half-built villas, at first there is little evidence of any violations. Workers either carry on their work inside the concrete shells of the villas, or sit cross-legged under the shade of nearby trees.
Finally, at around 12.45pm, we see a worker outside painting the wall of a building and we pull over for Yaqoob to take a photograph for evidence. He then takes the worker’s labour card and passes him a summons to give to his employer, Fales Grand Contracting.
Half an hour later I spot a second worker outside and Yaqoob goes through the same routine again.
Yaqoob tells me it is the third time he’s inspected in Al Warqa area since July 1, with smaller contractors more likely than larger ones to break the rule. Usually, a team of three inspectors in separate cars inspect one area of the emirate at a time, he says.
Since the regulations came into force on July 1, 16,624 inspections have been made across the UAE, with 201 work sites found to be in violation of the rule.
The UAE was the first GCC state to bring in the midday working ban in 2005, according to Maher Hamad Al-Obad, acting executive director for inspection at the ministry.
“The number of violating companies is fewer (than in previous years), a clear indication that we have been successful in spreading the word and awareness on this,” he says.
The ministry has also completed 2,051 guidance visits to outdoor sites to educate labourers and employers about the ban and make sure they understand the importance of implementing the law in order to avoid any penalties.
Arabian Business also accompanied the inspectors on a guidance visit to sites in Silicon Oasis to raise awareness about the ban.
Leaflets, in both English and Urdu, are handed out to workers explaining the ban, legal working hours and the duty of employers to provide cold drinking water and juices, cooling devices, a shaded area and first aid kits.
Workers are also presented with white baseball caps featuring the ministry’s yellow logo to promote the ban of a man sitting under a sunshade with a drink in his hand.
But at one site we visit, a labourer working for WAFCO Contracting tells me those workers who speak Hindi or are illiterate do not understand the regulations on midday working.
I mention this to Al-Obad who tells me there is a ministry call centre operated by staff speaking 11 languages, which workers forced to work during the midday break could use to file anonymous complaints by telephone.
At one of the sites the rest area, where labourers are encouraged to nap or relax during the break, consists of a thin single mattress on the floor of a grubby room.
The rest area in the second site is a little better, with air conditioning, benches, and foam pillows and cardboard laid on the floor for the men to rest on. A paper copy of the health and safety and environment policy of the employer, Sammon VG Contracting, is pinned to the outside of the room.
“This is better than what other people get,” says one worker napping on the floor.
At another site an sick labourer lies on the dusty ground, prompting an inspector to issue a summons to his employer Belhasa Group, requesting a company representative reports to the ministry.
Site manager Natiq Hamadany, of Belhasa, says the worker has already been to hospital and is waiting for a driver to pick him up and return him to his labour camp to rest.