Though summer midday work bans have officially ended across the GCC, workers labouring outdoors continue to be exposed to high-stress temperatures and humidity.
Each of the Gulf states implements its own version of a summer midway work ban, whereby outdoor work is prohibited during certain hours of the day (see table below). The bans are determined by fixed dates and times, rather than actual weather conditions.
Temperatures in the Gulf countries remain well above 35°C outside the summer work ban periods. Bahrain for example, where the midday work ban runs only from July to August, recorded its hottest June in more than a century with temperatures exceeding 40°C for 20 days, and the hottest day reaching 45.3°C. Kuwait, where the ban runs from June to August, regularly sees temperatures above 35°C in May and September.
In Bahrain, activists and MPs have called to extend the summer outdoor work ban by a month, but the government is reluctant to do so, reportedly due to “implications for the private sector”. Bahrain has the shortest midday work ban in the region, spanning only two months, while most GCC states run for two and one half to three months.
A recent ILO report on the impact of heat stress on workers notes that: “Above a certain threshold of heat stress, the body’s internal regulation mechanisms are no longer capable of maintaining body temperature at a level required for normal functioning... If the body temperature rises above 38°C (“heat exhaustion”), physical and cognitive functions are impaired; if it rises above 40.6°C (“heatstroke”), the risk of organ damage, loss of consciousness and, ultimately, death increases sharply”
Climate change and future challenges
Global warming is expected to exacerbate heat stress levels even further. According to a report by Germany’s Max Planck Institute, temperatures in the MENA region could increase by 4°C by 2050. The report notes that "The people in the Middle East and North Africa will then have to expect about 200 unusually hot days per year toward the end of the 21st century”.
Research by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) predicts that conditions in the Gulf region, including low elevations, very high humidity and temperature and intense sun, will make the region “a specific regional hotspot where climate change, in the absence of significant mitigation, is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future.”
The ILO notes that increases in heat stress resulting from global warming are projected to lead to global productivity losses equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs in the year 2030. In the Arab states, the construction sector will be hit most, with heat stress in this sector expected to account for 40% of the total loss of working hours in 2030. In the Gulf states, where the construction sector accounts for 23% of employment, “…high temperatures and humidity, alongside outdoor work, can exacerbate heat-related risks for these workers”.
Migrant workers, who account for 95% of the construction sector, will be most affected.
Qatar and Bahrain lost, respectively, 2.3% and 1.9% of working hours (the equivalent of 6,600 and 4,600 full-time jobs) as a result of heat stress in 1995. The ILO report projects that the percentage of working hours lost to heat stress will more than double in both Qatar and Bahrain, reaching 5.3%and 4.1%, respectively, by 2030, the highest of all Gulf states.
These are conservative figures: the report assumes agriculture and construction work is conducted in the shade, and that the global mean temperature will not exceed 1.5°C.
“Sometimes, however, temperatures are still extremely high outside of the banned hours, and limited labour inspection undermines the policy’s effectiveness. Moreover, since climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves, fixed restrictions on working hours may not be enough to protect workers from heat stress in these countries. Consequently, the current ban on outdoor midday work in the GCC countries could be adjusted to reflect real-time temperature”
Summer mid-day ban policies in the GCC
|GCC states||Legislation||Restriction period and hours||Penalties|
|Bahrain||Ministerial Decision No. (3) of 2013||
July 1 to August 31
12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
|BHD 500(USD 1,326) to BHD1,000 (USD 2,652) for each labourer caught working outdoors|
Decision No. (3337) of 2014
June 15 to Sept 15
12:00 pm to 3:00 pm
|SAR3,000 (USD 800) and SAR10,000 (USD 2,666) as well as the closure of the business for 30 days (excludes labourers in the oil and gas sector)|
|Oman||Ministerial Decision No. (286) of 2008, amended by Ministerial Decision No. 322 of 2011||
June 1 to August 31
12:30 pm to 3:30 pm
|OMR100 (USD 259) to OMR500 (USD 1,298) and jail term up to one month|
|Qatar||Ministerial Decision No. (16) of 2007||
June 15 to August 31
11:30 am to 3:00 pm
|Closure of the business for up to one month (excludes labourers in the oil and gas sector)|
|Kuwait||Ministerial Decision No. (189/L) of 2012, amended by Ministerial Decision No. (212/L) of 2012||
June 1 to August 31
11:00 am to 4:00 pm
|KD 100 (USD 328) to KD 200 (USD 656) for each labourer caught working outdoors|
|UAE||Announcement Decision by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation||
June 15 to Sept 15
12:30 pm to 3:00 pm
|Dh 5,000 (USD 1,361) for each labourer caught working outdoors|
Thousands of violations were recorded in 2019 alone; Bahrain recorded 56 violations, in UAE only 5 violations were recorded, Kuwait recorded 1,219 violations while Saudi Arabia recorded more than 180 violations. In Oman, 711 violations were recorded in 2018. Recent data for Qatar is unavailable.
The data above reflect local media reporting, and likely underestimate the true scale of violations in the region. Limited labour inspections mean many violations are not recorded; Bahrain, for example, has only 12 inspectors (six for the service sector and six for the industrial sector), for the nearly 80 thousand firms.
Some Gulf states also encourage people to report violations through toll-free hotlines and install billboards to inform workers of the work bans. Local NGOs and migrant community groups in some Gulf states also report violations and help raise awareness about the bans.
The GCC governments must do more to protect migrants working under increasingly dangerous temperatures. Temperature and pollution levels must be constantly monitored to ensure workers are protected from health and heat risks. Summer work bans cannot be based on arbitrary calendar dates, but must be based on real working temperatures. The GCC governments must ensure workers have access to appropriate dress codes, occupational safety and health measures and have control over their workplace, which can help workers in adapting to heat stress. Increased inspection capacity is needed to properly enforce these regulations.