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Wed 15 Jul 2009 01:29 PM

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Workers spotted breaking midday ban on MoL tour

AB accompanies inspectors on worksite tour, spots violations in Al Warqa area.

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.

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J 11 years ago

I find it very concerning that the labourers are responsible for giving the summons to their employer. How many people in this world would be comfortable with passing on a summons to their boss? While I applaud the objective of this regulation surely this part of the system cannot work, with either a) the summons not being given to the employer or b) the fine being passed to the worker. Why is the MoL not communicating directly with the offending employers?

Punky Brewster 11 years ago

Ever wonder HOW the managers/supervisors sleep in the night, knowing they put out people in the HOT sun, while they sit in their A/C offices!! I'm sure the authorities are trying their best to nab the violators, but my suggestion - go in dressed as a labourer, and then, catch them red-handed, instead of running away as soon as they see a car approaching. Have unsuspecting people do these checks as well, to make sure the LAW is followed. Pathetic Human Mental condition to see this still going on!!

KUWAIT GUY 11 years ago

Sounds great ! Name only 1 Company that has paid a fine ? None and it will never happen !

amaz...ed 11 years ago

any guesses what happens to the 'bewildered' worker? contracting companies paying fines without passing them down to the already ensnared poor hapless labourers ? - methinks not... scapegoats must be found....and who better than a faceless nameless worker who probably has no idea that a 'call-centre' has been so graciously set up to tackle issues he may have. ingenious again! BTW - would love to know how many complaints this call-centre has handled.

raja 11 years ago

16,624 visits in 14 days, counting the fridays as well. 1,187 per day. Hoping that the officials are working 8 hours (eiiiiighhhhht hours, too long for an official isn't it), approx. 150 per hour. Can someone clarify how may teams the labour ministry got to do this? If this is true? GREAT!

Intisar 11 years ago

Is this how you implementing your CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)….Funny. Instead of lying in your sofa... at a well AC room… drinking your well done cold coffee… watching movie or just jumping from one website into another … nagging....Please... take action... Show that you really care… create your own team, do your own guidance and inspectors’ visits… At the end these poor people are the whole community responsibility… I am sure that Tom will welcome joining you in your visits. Then, if the ministry of labour didn’t welcome your initiative… you could go back to your luxuries sofa… chatting and continue saving people’s rights online… Thank god that Gandhi and Mother Teresa have left us before seeing the digital version of the human rights defender.

Ray 11 years ago

Being a Human Resource Management company in Bangladesh, I would indeed say that perhaps the law hasn't taken full effect yet but this is a good start. The temperature in UAE around this time is "awesome"...and for a worker to be working outside at this time...well...not cool! So, since the law is there we can inform this to our workers heading for UAE so that they too are aware of such laws from the beginning.

Mad Dog 11 years ago

If the rip-off construction firms are going to blame their workers for this then there will be a natural attrition, and soon be-thobed layabouts will be laying bricks with their Phd's in their pockets and pride in their gutras. No more foreign slaves!

Peter Peter 11 years ago

You got it all wrong when your headline says "Worker caught breaking mid day ban". Not him but his employer is guilty. Did any one care to explain to the poor frightened soul that HE was NOT at fault ? He is probably spending sleepless nights ! Once the company has paid the fine will the MOL make sure the worker is not victimized ? This initiative is great but there is a much greater issue which is being swept under the carpet. Living conditions !! Why have the builders been given 5 years , yes FIVE YEARS to improve living conditions for the workers ? May be, just may be, the projects of some local Big Wigs will be completed by then and they will avoid having to do anything ? If the authorities are really serious about improving the lives of these workers then they should lay down the parameters for labor camps and give the builders 6 months to do it in. Then we will believe that the MOL is serious about the statements it makes.

Ray 11 years ago

Well, I do agree with the fact that it isn't the workers fault but the employers...and instead of scaring the hell out of the worker, MoL should clarify first that the worker isn't on the steak but his employer... Anyway, there are always two sides of the story and just looking at it from the other side, for any employer a mid day break for couple of hours means less productivity. So, just may be, perhaps the workers are given an option of working, by the employer ofcourse, during that period of time for overtime at their own risk which any worker understands very well. The reason i'm saying that is because the article mentions that when the worker was approached, he ran for it and usually from my knowledge if a worker is legally employed, he/she doesn't have any reason to be on alert. The worker making run for it could also mean that they were perhaps aware of such laws being in place. But, whatever it is, changes and improvements are necessary, and those changes are now possible since the law is there. Hence, this is a start...