JEDDAH: The Saudi government has moved to regulate night work and outline employee rights for those who work outside normal hours in the Kingdom. Ahmed bin Suleiman Al-Rajhi, the minister of labor and social development, issued a ministerial decree defining night work, and clarifying the responsibilities and rights of employees at their workplaces.
The decree states that night work includes any job done between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., while normal working hours include all jobs performed between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., which represents the main working hours.
Ministry of Labor and Social Development spokesman Khaled Aba Al-Khail said the term “night worker” refers to anyone whose job requires them to work for at least three hours during the night work period specified by the decree.
Employers are responsible for providing night workers with health services, and night workers have a right to present their workplace with a medical report to clarify whether they are fit work at night.
“If a worker’s health does not allow him to work during the night, he must be transferred to work on a day shift for the same number of hours,” Aba Al-Khail said.
He added that the decree outlined cases where night work should be avoided. These include anyone who provides a medical report stating that they are not fit for night hours, pregnant women for the 24 weeks before delivery, and pregnant women who provide medical reports stating they need additional time away from night work to ensure the health of the mother and baby.
In these cases, the employer must transfer employees to shifts during normal hours and ensure they have access to food services.
The ministry spokesman said that night workers must be compensated in the form of adjusted working hours, higher wages or similar benefits.
“Night workers must be provided with a suitable transportation allowance for night work, appropriate means of transport when other transport services are not available, or compensation for transport charges,” he said.
“In addition, night workers must receive an allowance suitable for the nature of their night work, or the actual working hours of night work must be reduced while maintaining the same weight as the normal working hours, benefits and benefits earned.
“The establishment must also protect the rights of night workers and ensure equality with employees of normal working hours through providing training, qualification, seniority, promotions and so on,” he added.
Aba Al-Khail said that the rest period between the end of one working day and the start of the next must not be less than 12 hours, and the maximum duration of night work must not exceed three months. After that, the night worker must be transferred to a normal hours for at least one month, unless the employee wishes to continue working at night. In that case, written consent must be given and kept in his file. The right to withdraw this consent must be protected.
The minister stressed the need of employers to take into account the situations of older employees, those with family responsibilities, and any others with special requirements.
“These compensations and benefits apply to those who work in the night work period for a full month, or at least 25 percent of the total monthly work for two months or more, or more than 45 business days a year. They do not apply to the night-work season during Ramadan,” said Aba Al-Khail.
He added that the decree is one of several ministerial edicts designed to improve workplaces and organize the work environment for women. The rules will take effect from Jan. 1, 2020.
Lawyer Ghaida Al-Moayad said that there will be a need to increase night work to achieve the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030, and the new legislation will help to regulate this and preserve the rights of workers.
She added that the new rules will protect women, and pregnant women in particular. Another important aspect of the law is that employees will not be required to work night shifts for more than three months in a row without their consent.
Al-Moayad said that if an employee who usually only works during normal hours is kept on past 11pm, this is not classed as working at night under the new rules. Instead, it would be considered “overtime,” as defined in article 107 of the labor bylaw. Based on this, each one hour worked by the employee is counted as one and a half hours. She added that many employers are not aware of this right and many labor disputes arise because of overtime calculations.
Siraj Wali, a consultant in pulmonary and sleep medicine, said that about 20 percent of employees work on night-shift systems. This disturbs the body’s biological clock and leads to an increased risk of diabetes and weight gain. Some studies have found that the sleep deprivation caused by working night shifts increases the risk of breast cancer and, in the long term, heart disease and even early death.
Wali added most workers on night shifts get less sleep that those on normal hours, which leads to an increased risk of accidents while driving or in the workplace. It can also lead to excessive daytime sleeping, decreased cognitive function, loss of concentration and poor decision making.
To avoid these consequences, Wali said employees must make sure they get enough sleep. In addition, employers should arrange periodic health checks to identify any issues that might be affecting shift workers. They should also ensure there are enough workers on duty during night shifts to decrease the load on staff and help them work more efficiently.