Sanitary workers of Sahiwal deprived of protective equipment and facilities

Asghar Masih of Gujjar Mohalla, Sahiwal has been working in Sahiwal Municipality for the last 12 years. Their lives are at stake all the time.

He was recruited as a sanitary worker in the department but is being hired as a sewer man. They have neither been trained nor received any safety equipment like face masks, oxygen cylinders, gas detectors, dry suits, and special shoes.

He has been infected with poisonous gas three times during his work. At the time of the accidents, he was taken to the hospital by the local people instead of the department, while he also took the expenses incurred on his treatment from his pocket.

“When I get into the gutter, I don’t know if I will come back alive safely. I have repeatedly told the department not to work as a sewer man but in response, I am threatened with dismissal. That’s why I’m forced to do it.”

He says he gets calls for work even on holidays but is not paid for the extra work.

Samia Shafiq, a resident of Gujjar Mohalla, has been working as a sanitary worker in Sahiwal Municipality for two months.

They are married and have three children. He said that no sanitation area has been allocated for him by the department, and the officers were put on duty wherever they want.

“We are neither given any ride nor any allowance by the department. The salary that one gets goes into rent. We are not even given protective masks.”

Khurram Khokhar is the president of the Protection of Workers’ Union, an organization working for the rights of sanitary workers. He is serving as a sanitary supervisor in Sahiwal Municipality.

He confirmed that no sanitary worker is provided protective equipment while working in Sahiwal Municipality nor is there any treatment facility available by the department.

“The municipality does not have sewer men, cleaning the gutters or opening them is taken from the sanitary worker. The biggest problem is that our responsibilities are not disclosed at the time of recruitment. We are subject to the orders of the officer, the one who can do whatever they want.”

He says that he has repeatedly informed the officers about his problems from his union platform, but there has been no hearing anywhere.

“Sanitation branch staff are not even promoted, a worker who is recruited retires after working on it all his life.”

Khurram said that the workers who work as beggars often suffer from respiratory diseases due to a lack of protective masks.

“The daily hours are eight hours, but they are stopped in case of an emergency or excess rain, even if someone has completed eight hours of duty.”

He said he has to use the union platform to get overtime, sometimes paid for extra work and sometimes not.

“Our workers get into the gutter with buckets in their hands without any safety arrangements. They have to inhale smelly toxic gases. Most sanitary workers suffer from various health problems.”

According to the records of Sahiwal Municipality, the number of approved posts of sanitary workers is 355, out of which 44 posts are vacant. In a letter to the Secretary of Local Government and Community Development last year, the department had demanded the appointment of 150 more sanitary workers and 50 sewer men, but it has not yet been implemented.

Sheikh Umar, superintendent of the sanitation branch in Sahiwal Municipality, confirms that sanitary workers are hired as sewer men.

“The application for the recruitment of sewer men has been sent to the government. Our department does not have funds, so all the arrangements have to be made in the budget that is given.”

He claimed that the department also provides face masks, oxygen cylinders, gas detectors, dry suits, belts, and ropes to sanitary supervisors.

Amir Lodhi, the sanitary inspector of Sahiwal Municipality, says that there are two types of staff working in the cleaning branch of his department, one is permanent and the other is employed on daily wages. Daily wage earners have been given permanent workman status by the government for four years.

“168 workers are working as permanent workmen in Sahiwal Municipality. They are paid only. Apart from this, they do not get an annual salary increase, medical allowance, or any other incentives in case of an accident or illness, no matter how many years they have been working in the municipality. ”

Contrary to the claims of the employees, they say that in the event of an accident during work, they are paid by the department for providing details of medical expenses.

Human rights activist Ashknaz Khokhar says nothing has changed for sanitation workers in the country for decades. A large number of sewer men are losing their lives due to poor planning and a lack of general facilities.

He said that the advertisement for jobs for cleaning work clearly states that only “non-Muslims” can apply for this job. This violates The International Labour Organization’s Convention 111 on Discrimination in Employment and Profession and the Constitution of Pakistan.

They demand legislation to outlaw the practice of unloading sanitary workers in gutters without any protective gear. All sanitary workers working on contract should be regularized, their salaries and health insurance should be increased keeping in mind the risks involved in their work, they should be provided vaccination from time to time and they should also be trained on the use of protective equipment, health risks, and precautionary measures.

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