Ministry promises to crack down on contractors that violate working ban

The Ministry of Labour has packed a punch with the delivery of this year’s ban on midday working. Any contractor found guilty of violating the new regulations has been threatened with fines, told they will be named and shamed and warned that all applications for new labourers will be ignored. Tim Wood speaks to contractors to gauge reaction to this year’s no-nonsense approach to rule breaking.

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By  Tim Wood Published  June 10, 2006

With more than 100 companies caught flouting the Ministry of Labour’s decision to give workers a four-hour break during July and August last year, the ministry has got tough 12 months on to ensure there is no repeat. Any contractor that breaks the terms of this year’s midday ban, which has been cut back by 90 minutes and now covers 12.30pm to 3pm, faces a fine of US $2,700 (AED10,000), in addition to having its new labour permits suspended for three months, as per the Cabinet decision made last year. Second-time violators will see both the fine and suspension of labour applications doubled, while those found guilty a third time will be punished with an $8,100 fine, and banned from issuing new permits for a whole year. The ministry has also pledged to name and shame directors and owners of construction firms who break the regulations in daily newspapers, alongside the company name. So how has the new law, announced by Dr Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka’abi a full month before it is implemented, been received? Contractors seem united in the opinion that the new stricter rules were necessary. Ivan Warnes, commercial manager, Dutco Balfour Beatty Construction Group, tells Construction Week: “We accept the ruling, the law is the law, and we as a company will comply with it. Whether there is a fine or not is irrelevant. It is rather sad if you have to penalise people to comply, but if that’s what it takes, so be it.” Warnes adds that the timing of the ministry’s announcement should allow firms to organise themselves better. “Telling us a month in advance means we can plan for it; we will be better able to cope,” he says. “The announcement hit us quickly last year so it was difficult, but if you have enough advance warning you can prepare yourself.” ALEC, main contractor on the Between the Bridges project in Abu Dhabi, has responded immediately to the ministry’s directive to ensure it will not face penalties of any kind. Kent Southworth, ALEC contract manager, explains: “We are implementing a double shift to protect the workers from 15 June onwards. “We are working from 2.30am until 12.30pm, taking a break between the banned hours, and then restarting at 3pm until late at night. There’s a law in place and we are going to comply with it, it’s as simple as that.” Fahad Al Haidan is general manager on Nakheel’s Discovery Gardens, a residential project near Jebel Ali that currently employs 35,000 workers. He says that Nakheel will do all it can to ensure workers get the break they deserve. “The labour camps are just a 15 minute drive away from the site so they can go back to rest and then work on until 7pm,” he explains. “Many of the workers will also be able to work inside the buildings, which means they are away from the sun and we are complying with the ban.” Al Haidan admits that it depends on where the sites are located as to whether workers can relax at their labour camps. “Last year we tried moving thousands of men but we found that many sites were too far away and buses were turning around and coming back as soon as they had left. “It was more practicable to find them shaded areas on site and we brought them food and drink instead.” With so many sites across the region, one obvious question remains — how will contractors be monitored to ensure they are not breaking the rules? Concern has been raised that there will once again be a lack of inspectors and similar figures will be recorded for the number of lawbreakers this time around. Mohsen Qahal, head of the Labour Ministry inspection department, is confident that despite the shortage in numbers there will be enough qualified personnel to ensure compliance with the new ruling. He expects five groups to be inspecting sites in Abu Dhabi, while three more will be responsible for monitoring work outside the emirate. Whether that will be enough to prompt firms to obey the law, only time will tell. But with contractors facing the very real possibility of having their name blackened or their pockets emptied for any violation, one would hope that additional inspectors will not be required anyway.

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