Taking the Heat
November 26, 2018
For several years now, Algerians have accused their government of lying about the weather. Official outlets, they believe, falsely report temperatures below 50 degrees Celsius—122 degrees Fahrenheit—to avoid giving workers a day off. Pointing to data from smartphones and European weather stations, Algerians complain that their government does not follow UN regulations that oblige a respite for workers laboring in the hot sun.
While government reporting may indeed be off, it is only by a few degrees. The critics, though, are off by a mile: the UN offers no worker protections from the heat.
Scientists suggest that high-temperature days are likely to become more common throughout the Middle East. Some even worry that large swaths of the region could be rendered uninhabitable by the end of the century.
Meanwhile, it remains up to individual governments to protect their workforces. Only some do, and workers in Oman, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait all complain that governments misreport temperatures to skirt worker protections. Several Gulf states mandate midday breaks for laborers during the summer months, but these laws often go unenforced or are judged inadequate by human rights groups.
The challenge for workers isn’t forcing governments to be honest about the temperature. Instead, it’s about pushing governments to accommodate workers throughout warmer summers. While the UN warns of reduced productivity in high temperatures, it does not protect workers from searing conditions. Governments may be reluctant to impose the costs of a day off on employers, especially when many laborers are migrant workers.
Lying about the heat doesn’t solve any problems, but it is free.
This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.