This was the overriding opinion of inspectors who spoke to Khaleej Times yesterday even as construction company representatives have expressed doubts whether the implementation of the suggestion would be possible without effecting major changes to labour regulations and civic laws.
"Poor construction workers will no longer suffer the blazing rays of the sun. Stringent penalties, including jail terms, will be enforced against violating employers," said a labour inspector in Abu Dhabi, making a reference to the midday mandatory break imposed on construction companies in the months of July and August.
A Labour Ministry official told Khaleej Times last week that the labour law stipulates that an employee should only work for eight hours and for a maximum of two extra overtime hours on any given day. “But the law did not specify whether these eight hours should be fulfilled during the day or at night,” the official pointed out, stressing that it is up to employers to decide the timings.
A labour inspector said that moving to night shifts would require changes to a number of existing government laws, and this will take time. He also lamented the poor facilities provided to inspectors, who, if they are to work at night, will have to make changes in their lifestyles.
He said that inspectors have been calling for compensation or allowance against the rigorous nature of their work. "Inspectors get little. They may be provided with some administrative facilities only by sympathetic superiors, who consider their four-hour work under the sun (as is the case now) as full duty," he said. Shifting to night duty will involve more changes and it is not yet known whether the official agencies will respond to this suggestion positively.
According to the ministerial decree No. 467 of the year 2005, aiming at protecting workers from the sun, labourers are to work only five hours in the morning period during summer months if working in the sun or uncovered areas. Workers are not to stay on duty after 12:30pm and are not to resume duty before 4:30pm, effective from July 1 till August 30. This decree was issued last year but largely remained not implemented. But it is to be strictly enforced and monitored this year. Workers, who used to take off their helmets in the hot sun of the summer, will be able this year to take rest during afternoon hours. They are not to be seen wandering in groups around work sites, mostly inside the cities, or sighted without a shade to shelter in.
Khaleej Times has suggested that during the peak summer months when the temperature soars to its highest levels, companies should switch to 'night only' shifts starting from 5pm and continuing till 8am.
Some employers in Abu Dhabi and other emirates have queries on the night-shift suggestion. "We already operate both in the day and night shifts. Abu Dhabi is witnessing huge real estate investments and we have to meet the deadlines. We are already operating night shifts… does this suggestion mean that we only have to operate night shifts and leave the workers to relax during the whole day?" asked a construction company representative at the Labour Ministry office yesterday.
There are huge projects in the pipeline in Abu Dhabi, including residential and commercial complexes worth billions of dollars. Among the most important projects are hotels and resorts which are meant to help the emirate cope with the great tourism potentials in the next few years.
Many of the construction companies in the capital are already operating the night shift, the representative noted.
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