Muscat: It’s 2pm and 48 degrees Celsius and this expat labourer is still working despite the mid day break rule – just one of scores of sites across Oman where the work goes on – and workers suffer.
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Employers are legally obliged to allow workers to down tools during the hottest part of the day – between 12:30 and 3:30pm in the months of June, July and August. Enforcement squads from the Ministry of Manpower patrol the country and so far 43 firms have been warned, after 470 inspections to ensure mid-day breaks are taken.
A Sohar resident took photos of firms openly flouting the rules and supplied them to Times of Oman because he was so appalled at the ministry rule being flouted so openly.
The photographs prompted a renewed warning from the ministry and a call to unite against the “inhuman” breaches “on humanitarian grounds” from a senior Shura Council member.
Oman has strict policies when it comes to labour violations, which can result in hefty fines for the employers. According to Article 118 of the Oman Labour Law, breaches can be penalised with high fines and the penalty is doubled for repeat offenders. The mid day break is announced every year in accordance with Article 16 of the Oman Labour Law, which states that workers must not work at construction sites or in open and elevated areas from 12:30pm to 3:30pm in June, July and August.
“Companies violating the mid day break need to stop the practice or they will be fined,” an official at MoM said.
“This ministerial decision was put in place to protect workers from the scorching heat during the summer. Workers operating out in the sun, in hot and high pressure environments are entitled to a mid day break. This is a mandatory rest period, however many companies are still caught violating, and violators can be reported at 80077000.
“When we see them (companies) violating the first time, we advise them but if they don’t rectify their mistake, then there will be a fine as per the Omani labour law. So after the warning, if the inspection team goes back and sees they have not done anything about the violation, they will be fined,” the official added.
The Ministry has inspected 470 companies from the first of June this year, and there were 43 which did not comply with the rule, so they were asked to correct.”
Dr Mohammed Al Zadjali, Head of the Legal Committee at the Majlis Al Shura, said: “Working during the peak hours of heat puts the workers in a particularly vulnerable situation and leads to an increase in work-related injuries due to the unbearable heat. Operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, or strenuous physical activities have a high potential for causing heat-related illness.
“The government of Oman has put regulations on employers to follow official safety guidelines to save lives and prevent casualties, and companies have to strictly adhere to the regulations and guidelines provided, with regards to employees working outdoors in this intense heat.
“Most workers in Oman have to work from seven in the morning to six in the evening out in the open, with just an hour’s break in between. It’s absolutely inhuman to work in this heat and our government is sensitive to the employees working under extreme conditions, and aims at raising awareness about the risks resulting from direct sun while working in open spaces, by visiting a number of construction sites in Oman.
“Therefore, on humanitarian grounds and as a responsible employer, I urge all my fellow employers to follow the guidelines provided by the government for safety and health of our fellow beings. Let’s join hands together and cooperate to combat the heat, during the months of June, July and August. Employees working outside in the heat should be given a break and resume work once the temperature has cooled down a bit while the risk to human life is less.”
A supervisor and inspector at one of the construction consultancies said that mid-day break violations were common and something which companies find hard to avoid. “My job includes visiting construction sites and often I see that the construction companies do not let their workers rest in the mid-day break hours. It’s sad to see but it’s quite common, most companies are guilty of this except probably the larger ones which are more organised.”
The Sohar resident who clicked the photos said that he was disappointed. “I went to some construction sites and took pictures of labourers working in the hot sun during the mid-day break. In Muscat usually there are more inspectors from the Ministry of Manpower, so violations are easy to spot, but here in Sohar and the north Batinah region there are many violations taking place, not in a single location but multiple sites.
“I have seen this happening at many construction sites, at 1pm, 1.30pm and 2.30pm, in 48 degrees. At this temperature usually we find it difficult to work sitting in our offices and these guys have to work outside in the sun. It’s sad.”
“I went to one site and asked the workers there why they were working in the break hours, and they said that their foreman is watching them and they can’t take any time off, they are only allowed a small lunch break and that’s it. In Ramadan the workers could not eat or drink in public, so they would need to go inside, but they weren’t being allowed to do so, they just keep working. There are also other workers who continue to operate in the break hours because they work by hours and need to complete their period, if they don’t do that their wages will be cut.”