Summer in the UAE is a very hot time of year. In view of this, the Ministry of Labour has issued its annual resolution in relation to summer working hours. The resolution is on similar terms to previous years; however, this update serves as a timely reminder of the restrictions that employers must observe during the summer months.
It is often reported that temperatures in the UAE can easily soar above 50 degrees Celsius in the summer. While this may be a slight exaggeration, it is not uncommon for the mercury to rise into the late 40s in the UAE. Whatever the temperature, it can nevertheless be agreed that summer in the UAE is a very hot time of year. In view of this, the Ministry of Labour has issued its annual resolution (Ministerial Decision no. 543 of 2011 in relation to Summer Working Hours issued on 29 May 2013) in relation to summer working hours (the Resolution). The Resolution is on similar terms to previous years; however, this article serves as a timely reminder of the restrictions that employers must observe during the hot summer months.
Employer obligations and restrictions
As with previous years, the Resolution reiterates that from Saturday 15 June 2013 to Sunday 15 September 2013 inclusive (the Summer Months):
- workers who work in direct sunlight (such as construction sites) are entitled to receive a break of two and a half hours from 12:30pm to 3:00pm, and further that, employers are required to provide workers with a shaded area for rest during this break period;
- daily working hours must not exceed 8 hours in any 24 hour period and any workers working in excess of these hours will be entitled overtime for any such additional hours worked (the overtime rates are as per UAE Federal Law No. 8 of 1980, as amended, the Labour Law); and
- employers must display daily shift schedules (both in Arabic and also the workers’ local language) in a place where they may be easily viewed by inspectors monitoring compliance with the Resolution.
The Resolution also repeats the general Labour Law obligations requiring employers to protect workers from occupational injuries and diseases (that may arise during working hours) and also against fire and other such hazards that may be a result from the use of machinery and other work tools.
Does the resolution apply to all workers?
There is some debate about which employees are covered by the Resolution. At a seminar organised by the Ministry of Labour on 13 June 2013, chaired by a representative from the Ministry's labour inspections and legal departments, it was confirmed that the Resolution applies to all workers, regardless of sector, who are exposed to direct sunlight in their line of work. For example, a construction worker undertaking work on a road in exposed sunlight is entitled to the break; however, another construction worker operating heavy machinery from an enclosed and air-conditioned control box may continue to work during the same hours.
To take an interesting scenario, food deliveries are popular in Dubai during most times of the year, but particularly during the hot summer months, when office workers who may otherwise enjoy a brief walk outside to buy their lunch may be tempted to have lunch delivered instead. Given that many delivery drivers operate two wheel scooters, motorbikes and other such vehicles, arguably delivery drivers using such vehicles would fall under the Resolution. Delivery drivers operating larger four wheel vehicles which are enclosed and provide air conditioning, on the other hand, would not fall under the Resolution.
The impact of Ramadan
Ramadan presently falls during the Summer Months. It is important to remember that during Ramadan, normal working hours should be reduced by 2 hours. This means that overtime charges during Ramadan should apply after the 6th working hour (excluding breaks), as the daily working hours of 8 are reduced to 6 hours per day.
Exceptions to summer working hours
Similar to earlier versions of the Resolution, there is an exception to the above restrictions, namely, where work cannot be stopped for technical reasons. This means that where the nature of the work is such that it must be carried out on an uninterrupted basis, workers may be required to work between the hours of 12:30pm to 3:00pm over the Summer Months, notwithstanding the Resolution. The Ministry of Labour have confirmed that the types of work that fall within the exception include:
- asphalt mix laying works and concreting if this cannot be carried out or completed during the afternoon period;
- work necessary to avoid any danger or rectify any damage, fault or accidental losses (for example in relation to: water supply line disconnection; sewage pipelines disconnection, electric current disconnection; traffic suspension on main roads; and oil or gas pipelines interruptions);
- works affecting traffic movement and services, carried out pursuant to a permit from a competent governmental authority requiring their completion continuously (for example: disconnection or diversion of main traffic routes; disconnection of power; disconnection of telecommunication lines); and
- any other work as approved by the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour.
If workers are required to work in direct sunlight between the hours of 12:30pm to 3:00pm over the Summer Months (i.e. because the nature of the work), then the employer is required to provide those workers with:
- sufficient cold drinking water;
- nourishing minerals (such as salt and lemon and as otherwise recommended by the Health Authorities);
- first aid at the work site;
- industrial cooling devices; and
- protective shade against direct sunlight (for example umbrellas to protect the workers from direct sunlight).
How will the restrictions be enforced or monitored?
The Ministry of Labour has indicated that that labour inspectors will visit construction sites and other such places where work is performed in direct sunlight to ensure that companies are complying with the Resolution. Where an employer is found to be in breach of the Resolution, the employer is liable to face a fine of AED 15,000 for every violation. This is different to previous years' ministerial resolutions which have provided for fines of between AED 10,000 to AED 20,000 depending on whether the violation was a first time offence or a repeat violation.
As the UAE property market and economy continues to recover, as evidenced by the recent announcement of several large development projects, health and safety regulations for employees are likely to become increasingly under focus. Although many UAE entities may already implement international standards of safety, those who do not are likely to be under Ministry of Labour scrutiny. Whilst the UAE may be known for its soaring summer temperatures, as the economy picks up, it will not want to be known for lax health & safety procedures for employees.