Behind every glamorous building in Dubai are hundreds of mostly South Asian workers. Yesterday, during a ten kilometer city hike from the Burj Khalifa to Bur Dubai, the quality of life for nearly half of the Emirate’s population came into view. Beyond glitzy Dubai are shadow neighborhoods where round satellite dishes, rooftop clothing lines, and crumbling walls painted in bright colors stand in stark contrast to shimmering skyscrapers and meandering villas.
Whereas malls and leisure areas set their thermostats at a bone-chilling 21 degrees celsius average, these semi-homes are mostly likely cooled with fans or not at all. Contemplating this, and encountering many workers on my walking tour, I wondered how it feels to work on a Middle Eastern construction zone in the dead of summer?
The heat of the day:
This is not a new question. Since 2006, the United Arab Emirates has banned construction companies from expecting their employees to work during the heat of the day during summer months.
Following a spate of heat-related illnesses and complaints, last year the UAE’s Ministry of Labor extended the ban to last an additional month. From noon to 3pm from June to September, workers are supposed to receive a shaded place wherein they can take refuge from the vicious midday sun.
This year Saudi Arabia will follow suit, except that country’s workers will only get a two month reprieve from the heat. Other Gulf countries such as Bahrain and Qatar have a similar policy that protects workers, but Kuwait does not.
Even so, last year 60 companies in Dubai were found to be in breach of the ban. Fines for violating the rules range from $2,000 to $8,000 depending on how many infringements occur, so there exists a high compliance rate, but critics argue that the municipality lacks the manpower to properly enforce these regulations. As a result, many workers are still forced to work at enormous peril to their health and safety.
Emiratis comprise less than 20% of the UAE’s overall population, few of whom become involved with building projects. The bulk of construction work is completed instead by South Asian expatriates who according to the CIA World Factbook make up 50% of the overall population. In the last few years, more attention has been paid to their welfare.
Gulf news reported earlier this month that workers rights received top billing when Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, urged the newly restructured Permanent Committee for Labor Affairs to ensure the highest protection of workers’ rights in Dubai.
A/C is better than heat-stroke:
I don’t love air-conditioning. I don’t love its energy consumption and I don’t love the quality of what I’m breathing. But I am already addicted to it here.
At only 38 degrees, the daytime hours of stultifying heat are already miserable without any kind of cooling.
Although buildings could be warmer than 21 degrees, which would decrease energy consumption by leaps and bounds, it is not possible to live here without some serious A/C help.
In Alaska, fishermen only work so many months out of the year because of environmental and fish catch constraints. Granted, those months are hard and long and tiring, and families have to conserve their earnings for the rest of the year, but this is a pragmatic response to a problem that is beyond human control. Could a similar, but reverse solution work here? Can we envision a total summer ban?
More on summer temperatures in the Middle East: