Burning desire to keep workers cool

Over the years, labour reforms have transformed the lives of labourers in the UAE.

Published: Tue 16 Jun 2015, 9:04 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:50 PM

Summers can scorch you to death with temperatures touching almost 50 degree Celsius in the country, but workers can take a break from the heat as they are protected by law. They rest, quench their thirst with gulps of life-giving liquid and replenish themselves during a mandatory annual midday break, for three months. And we are not going overboard by saying rising skyscrapers in the UAE have matched lofty standards set by the government on workers’ welfare — a constructive development.

Over the years, labour reforms have transformed the lives of labourers in the UAE. Safety, living and health conditions for these blue-collar workers have improved from what they were a decade  ago when the UAE launched its massive development programme encompassing all sectors of the economy. A building boom followed and modern skylines rose in the desert which drew expatriate workers from developing countries across the world. The heat may be intolerable during most months of the year, but summers can kill those toiling in the open without protective gear and adequate hydration.

In India this year, 2,000 people died during a heat wave across the country. Qatar is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons after some workers died while constructing its stadiums while staving off the heat. Rights watchers are having a field day.

But the UAE has done more than its fair share for workers and ensured they are treated with respect. Under the midday break rule, employers are banned from deploying labourers on sites from 12.30pm to 3pm when mercury levels are at their peak. Failure to adhere to rules set by the ministry will entail a fine of Dh5,000. It can rise to Dh50,000 for employers who are found violating rules often. They will also be named and shamed. Last year, the government said 99.7 per cent of emmployers in the construction sector complied after inspectors visited 80,000 locations.

However, more can be done at construction sites. Suggestions include mobile health units and increasing the number of air-conditioned portacabins to keep the workforce cool during the burning heat of day.

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