The soaring summer temperatures in the GCC bring with it the annual announcement that mandatory summer midday breaks shall be in force in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the State of Qatar (Qatar). The midday break rules prohibit companies from allowing employees to work in direct sunlight at specific times during the day for a set period each year. The purpose of the midday break is to reduce the risk of work-related injuries through protecting workers from labouring under direct sunlight during the hottest time of day in the height of summer.
Midday Break dates and timings
The dates and timings of the midday breaks vary from one country to the next, as is demonstrated in the table below:
|Country||Decision||Effective dates||Timings of midday break|
|UAE||Ministerial Decree No. 401 of 2015 and Resolution No. 421 of 2017||15 June - 15 September||12:30pm to 15:00pm|
|KSA||Decision No. 3337 dated 15.7.1435||15 June - 15 September||12:00pm to 15:00pm|
|Qatar||Decree No. 16 of 2007||15 June - 15 September||11:30am to 15:00pm*|
*Companies in Qatar are limited to requiring employees to work for not more than five hours before 11:30am whilst the midday break is in force between15 June - 31August.
Monitoring and the applicable sanctions / penalties
Inspection teams have been set up by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MHRE) to ensure that companies in the UAE are compliant with the midday break rules. It is understood that, the 18 inspection teams have been tasked with conducting 60,000 inspection visits in 2017, utilising a smart inspection system which prioritises follow up visits through the analysis of specific criteria.
The MHRE operates a transparent system which permits those companies accused of violating the midday break rules to submit a letter of objection if querying a penalty. However, for those companies found to be non-compliant the penalties can be severe, with fines of AED 5,000 being issued per worker up to a maximum of AED 50,000 and in some instances companies could even be downgraded and/or have their operations temporarily halted. Therefore, in an effort to educate companies and their employees about the dangers of carrying out work in direct sunlight and the potential penalties, the MHRE commenced pre-emptive inspections on 07 June 2017.
In the past three years the Ministry of Labour and Social Development (MOL) in the KSA has seen a decrease in the number of violations of the midday break rules, in part down to the MOL's ongoing efforts to educate companies and employees about the midday break rules and the dangers of working in direct sunlight.
The MOL also employs inspectors to ensure compliance with the midday break rules and actively encourages employees and citizens to report any violations either in person or via a helpline.
Those companies who fail to comply could face a fine of between SR 3,000 and SR 10,000 and/or the closure of the company for a period of 30 business days.
To ensure compliance in Qatar, 'Outdoor Work Restriction Inspectors' are tasked with conducting on-site visits across the country. As part of their inspections, they will review company work timetables, which should be clearly display on-site at all times in accordance with the midday break rules.
Failure to comply with the midday break rules could see companies being forced to close for a period of up to one month.
Certain types of work are excluded from the midday break in the UAE. For example, employees are permitted to operate during the midday break if they are carrying out work which is required to prevent expected danger, reparation, damage, malfunction or loss (e.g. restoring power lines and maintaining water supplies). However, in these exceptional circumstances, companies are required to provide adequate cold water, sunshade, air conditioners and first aid as appropriate.
Certain areas of the KSA are exempt from the midday break rules as the temperature in those areas does not rise to a potentially harmful level during the summer months. Further, due to the fluctuating temperatures in some rural areas and cities, the MOL will intermittently relax the midday break rules from time to time in these areas, liaising with local authorities to regulate the ban accordingly.
Also, the midday break does not apply to oil and gas companies or those employees working in maintenance who are required to carry out emergency work.
The midday break shall not be applicable to those companies working on oil and gas projects.
Practical tips for companies
To avoid the sanctions and penalties associated with failing to comply with the midday break rules, whilst limiting the impacting business and projects, companies should:
- Make necessary amendments to company practices in order to comply with the midday rules in the relevant countries;
- Account for the potential impact of midday breaks at the planning stage of any project and consider implementing alternative strategies to manage the project during this time (e.g. considering whether additional manpower might be required to ensure productivity remains unaffected); and
- Ensure all employees are aware of the rules and the potential penalties, particularly the senior managers who are responsible for a site.