Three sanitary workers die from suffocation in TM Khan drain

By Aftab Ahmed
June 13, 2024
A representational image of a dead body. — APP File

HYDERABAD: Three sanitary workers died from suffocation while cleaning a sewage drain in Tando Muhammad Khan on Wednesday.

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Work on the cleaning of sewage and storm drains in Tando Muhammad Khan had begun on Monday, June 11 on the directions of the local government and district administration.

Initially, one of the deceased sanitary workers entered a manhole of the drain to clean it. When he did not return for some time, his two colleagues became anxious. They entered the drain to save him but they also did not return.

This led to panic at the scene and rescue teams were called.

It took a few hours to take the three men out of the drain. They were transferred to a hospital where doctors confirmed their deaths.

The deceased sanitary workers were identified as Younis, Chaman and Younis Hidayat. Their families brought the bodies to Sajawal Chowk where they staged a sit-in against their deaths resulting in a traffic jam. Due to the closure of Sajawal Road, long queues of vehicles were formed as the protesters shouted harsh slogans against the administration.

Municipal Chairman Syed Shah Nawaz Shah reached the sit-in and held talks with the heirs. He announced compensation for each of the dead sanitary workers, after which, the protestors ended the sit-in.

HRCP’s press conference

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) held a press conference at the Hyderabad Press Club to disclose the details of its document on the rights of sanitary workers.

The press conference was addressed by HRCP Chairperson Asad Iqbal Butt, Vice Chairperson Kazi Khizr and others. Butt said the issues of sanitary workers were important but the government did not pay attention to them. He announced that the HRCP was issuing a model national policy framework for the sanitary workers.

He said that on the advertisements for the jobs of sanitary workers, it was written that only non-Muslims should apply. He added that sanitary workers were now being hired on a temporary basis or through third-party contracts. The HRCP termed these all facts violations of the law and fundamental rights of workers. He demanded that the sanitary workers be recruited directly and those who were being paid monthly salaries less than the minimum salary fixed by the government be paid according to the law.

Butt said the 5 per cent job quota for minorities was filled by the government through sanitary workers who were not recruited in upper grades. He lamented that sanitary workers were not being given equal rights in offices, and safety measures for them were completely ignored.

The HRCP chairperson said that government institutions did not ensure availability of instruments to check oxygen level inside sewers.

Khizr said the federal government in 2006 and the Sindh government in 2015 made a policy for sanitary workers, but they proved insufficient.

Sanitary workers should be given permanent employment, and their contract or job document should be unambiguous, he said, adding that female sanitary workers should be given leave for six months during pregnancy.

He also called for insurance and old-age benefit facilities for sanitary workers by registration in the social security department. He demanded that machinery be used instead of humans for cleaning sewage drains and big gutters. He added that the sanitary workers should also be given the right to form a union. He said that from 2022 to June 2024, 11 sanitary workers died due to a lack of sanitary safety kits in various districts of Sindh.

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