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Activists demand social security cover, better pay for sanitary workers

December 20, 2019

Stressing the need for creating and strictly implementing the standard operating procedures for sanitary workers, human rights and labour rights activists have called for bringing these workers under social security cover.

The demand was made by speakers at a press conference organised by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) at the Karachi Press Conference on Thursday.

The speakers included Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research executive director Karamat Ali, Sindh Labour Federation president Shafiq Ghauri, SPO regional coordinator Pirbhu Satyani, Urban Resource Centre joint director Zahid Farooq and community activist Boota Imtiaz.

Showing their anger over recent deaths of sanitary workers because of toxic gases while cleaning clogged sewers in various parts of the province, including Karachi, they said sanitation workers were vulnerable in terms of their safety as they cleaned toxic manholes and sewage lines without having safety kits.

They said sanitary workers associated with various layers of the local government bodies, including union councils, town municipal administrations, district councils and municipal corporations, had been working without the regularisation of their jobs for many years, and thus suffering economic hardships.

They are being deprived of wages prescribed in the government rules and paid Rs14,000 or less at the government’s institutions instead of Rs17,500 set as minimum wage for unskilled workers, they speakers said.

Quoting the National Sanitation Policy 2016 and the Sindh Sanitation Policy 2017, which do not have any mention about these sanitation workers – the main stakeholders – speakers said that these workers must be consulted before designing such policy documents, their concerns should be heard to avoid any gaps and an error-free policy which ensures the safety of the rights of these workers should be formulated.

They added that the SPO and the Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) had provided safety kits to 250 sanitary workers to avoid any untoward incident. They demanded that similar kits be provided to all sanitation workers.

The rights activist said that, presently, the government bodies do not recruit more workers on their own with offering confirmation letters; instead, they depend on contractors for hiring these workers on daily wages, depriving them of their rights, he said.

These contractors do not take responsibility when these workers die or get injured during duty. The government must regularise them and provide pensions and packages as per the laws, he said. Contractors should be made bound to register these workers with social security institutions and the EOBI so they may get medical facilities, pensions and other benefits,

He said that the government should sign documents with the contractors about these facilities. In case of injury or death, the sanitary workers should be compensated equal to Rs 500,000, the rights defenders said.

The SPO’s Satyani said that his organization has taken on board the Mayor Hyderabad and other officials of Hyderabad Municipal Corporation and WASA Hyderabad to work together for social well being of these workers.

At the press conference, speakers also produced a Charter of demands, which included: to confirm all workers with proper facilities under the labour laws, including pension and gratuity; to ensure the provision of safety kits among sanitation workers, considering as they are exposed to toxic gases, and to ensure health insurance for these workers so they may get compensated for any horrible incidents.

The charter also demanded that sanitary workers should be brought to social security mechanism, registered with provision of health cards; to end discrimination by the government and declare it (discrimination) crime. If someone discriminates them should be brought to justice to ensure respect with their dignity; to end recruitment through contractors, as they do not take responsibility in case the workers get injured or die during duty.

Speakers also demanded that the government should sign documents with contractors so that in case of injury or death, the sanitary workers or heirs should be compensated and given Rs500,000, the law regarding the compensation mechanism for sanitary workers should be implemented, and these workers should be linked with welfare funds received from corporate social responsibility.

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