Malik Afzal Mehdi joined a construction firm in the UAE as a labourer in 2004. Now a foreman, he is the last to leave the site. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Sharjah: Like thousands of construction workers in the UAE, Malik Afzal Mehdi, a foreman with a Sharjah-based construction firm braves the heat, thirst and hunger, making sure the development work of the country doesn’t stop even while fasting in Ramadan.

The 57-year-old Pakistani expat has been in the construction job since 1980 when he joined the Pakistan Army as a mason. Following his retirement after 18 years of military service he arrived in the UAE in 2004 to join a construction firm as a manual labourer.

So far, he has helped build at least 12 towers in Dubai and Sharjah, but this foreman’s spirit for work doesn’t wane even when he is fasting.

As part of a series that puts outdoor workers in the spotlight, recognising their contributions in keeping the country running, we speak to Mehdi to get an insight about his life and work, particularly during the month of fasting.

I enjoy my job and this has helped me go on for so many years. I don’t get tired easily even while fasting as I am used to doing hard labour from a very early age.

- Malik Afzal Mehdi, Pakistani foreman, 57

“I don’t see work as burden. We all come here to work and earn money for our families back home and we can’t afford to slow down,” said Mehdi, who is a father of five.

In Ramadan, Mehdi and his colleagues begin their day at 3.30am when they eat their Suhour meal and following their Morning prayers at 4.30am, board the bus for the construction site they work at.

“We arrive at the site around 5am and begin our work at 6am. In Ramadan, we work reduced hours so our duty ends at 12 noon, however, as we work on contract basis if the workers finish their given tasks before time they can choose to work overtime and earn more, which most of us do, and as a foreman I supervise all the tasks so I am obviously the last one to leave the site,” added Mehdi.

After completing their overtime by 2pm, the workers reach their accommodations by 3pm after which they have the day for themselves to relax, take some rest and prepare for iftar.

“I believe in following a fixed routine even in other months of the year, so every morning I wake up around 4am, a little earlier during Ramadan and go to bed around 9.30pm. In Ramadan we get to have some much needed rest in the afternoon, but in other days it is important for us to go to bed early and get enough sleep to have enough energy to work the whole day,” said Mehdi, whose army training helps him maintain discipline.

Mehdi began his career in the UAE as a manual labourer with a salary of only Dh600, but within a few days he was made in charge of a group of workers and his army experience and efficiency helped him rise quickly to become a foreman. He now earns around Dh3,000 including his overtime wages.

“I like what I do, I enjoy my job and this has helped me go on for so many years. I don’t get tired easily even while fasting as I am used to doing hard labour from a very early age and most of my colleagues are also from similar background. I am not saying it’s not hard but I don’t mind it as long as this helps me feed and educate my children,” said Mehdi, who hails from a village called Dhok Bidder near the city of Jhelum in Pakistan’s Punjab province.